With a week off between games — including Thursday's postponement because of Michigan's COVID issues — Gophers coach Lindsay Whalen and her team had a rare midseason respite after their three-game Big Ten winning streak ended in a one-sided loss to Iowa.
Here's how they used it:
• They took Monday and Thursday off, practicing hard on the other days.
• Whalen took time to meet one-on-one with players and hold meetings with her captains.
• Players got time to rest and recover. Gadiva Hubbard remains questionable for Sunday's game at Ohio State. Jasmine Powell didn't practice until Friday but should be OK.
Whalen also came to a decision on changing her rotations. In her quest to find an answer for a team that so often struggles in the second half, Whalen has decided the starting backcourt of Powell and Sara Scalia needs to rest more early in games so they'll have more energy late.
"What we've done worked for three games in a row," Whalen said of her team's winning streak. "It's not like we have to redo everything. At the same time, what can you learn? Sometimes it's as simple as that. We get a little tired in the second half."
It was against Iowa, when a six-point game at the half got out of hand in the third quarter, when the Gophers were outscored 28-8. This has happened, to varying degrees, often this season. With Hubbard out with a sprained ankle, Iowa used a triangle-and-two on Powell and Scalia, effectively wearing them down.
Powell is currently fifth in the Big Ten in minutes per game (34.2). In the past four games. Scalia has played 150 out of a possible 160 minutes. Against Iowa, Powell played 34 minutes on an ankle she sprained in practice the day before.
"I can't believe she played," Whalen said. "We have some warriors. Some of the things these guys have played through, COVID aside, has been unbelievable."
Whalen's plan is to give freshmen Katie Borowicz and Caroline Strande significant minutes to give Powell and Scalia rest, making sure that one of the two starters is always on the court. Borowicz, who graduated from Roseau High School early and joined the Gophers midseason, has had flashes of both strong play and difficult minutes. But she plays with a confidence. Strande had a significant ankle injury early in the season, returned, but tweaked that ankle again a couple of weeks ago. Against Iowa she scored seven points playing half the fourth quarter.
With Powell resting early this week, and Hubbard not practicing, Borowicz and Strande got significant minutes with the first team in practice this week.
No. 11 Ohio State will give both freshmen a test. The Buckeyes have won four of five, including three straight victories against ranked teams Michigan, Maryland and Indiana.
After a week between games, the Gophers will play four games in 11 days.
"It is hard to sit and watch the team from the bench, but it is also important we get as much rest as possible," Powell said. "We know a lot of teams try to get us tired.''