When this season began the Gophers women's basketball team just didn't seem able to get out of the gate. More recently, they've had problems shutting the door.
The result, often, has been the same: a loss.
The Gophers are 2-5 heading into Sunday's game with Penn State at Williams Arena. That includes a 1-4 mark in the Big Ten, with the four losses coming by an average of 19 points. Earlier in the season slow starts sabotaged them; more recently, it has been tepid second halves.
In a victory at Wisconsin, the Gophers had a 41-30 halftime lead erased by the Badgers, who forced overtime. In Iowa on Wednesday, the Gophers led by 16 late in the second quarter and by 10 at halftime before the Hawkeyes outscored them 54-31 in the final two quarters.
Gophers coach Lindsay Whalen says the problem is experience and a need for more resiliency.
"Part of it is just going through it," Whalen said. "We've had two games in a row where we won the first half of games. We gave up 30 points by halftime in Wisconsin and 38 in Iowa. We gave up the lead in Wisconsin, but won, so it doesn't sting as much."
But Iowa stung. Against a high-scoring and well-regarded Hawkeyes team, Whalen said her team had to be better at absorbing the kind of counterpunch a good team will throw at them.
The experience will come. Shorthanded at the start of the season, the Gophers have had their full roster available for a while now. But Whalen — and point guard Jasmine Powell — said the team members are still figuring out how to play together. That is particularly true of transfers Laura Bagwell-Katalinich and Kayla Mershon.
"It seemed a little bit like we were unprepared in the second half for what Iowa came out and wanted to do," Powell said. "We couldn't find ways to stop them, and we started going away from our game plan [on offense]. It really didn't go well for us. We need to stay locked in.''
As the team's point guard, Powell could be the key.
After Wednesday's game, Powell was 17th in the Big Ten in scoring (16.4), third in assists (6.0), second in minutes (35.3) and 16th in steals (1.7). But she also has been up and down at times. She has 37 turnovers to go with 42 assists. She is shooting 37.1% overall and 32 % on three-pointers.
But when she's on her game, the Gophers offense works.
Whalen said she thought Powell had her best game of the season in Iowa. She shot 6-for-10 overall, made three of seven three-pointers and had six assists to go with three turnovers. But she's still learning her new teammates, too. Several players she plays extensively with — Kadi Sissoko, Bagwell-Katalinich, Mershon and Klarke Sconiers — either weren't on the team or rarely played last season.
"It's knowing where Kadi wants to get the ball, where Sara [Scalia] is in her hot spot," Powell said. "We have to know our teammates, put them in the best situations to score. I think as we play more together that will improve."
It needs to happen soon. The Gophers have shown what they can do in spurts, but have yet to do it for a full game.
"We've shown since the holidays we can compete against some really good teams," Whalen said. "This is our third game with our full group. This is our team for the rest of the year. It's time now to see some things that are working and build on that."