With her team stuck in a recent scoring slump, Gophers coach Lindsay Whalen has found herself turning to another Minnesota basketball legend for a solution.
“Mikan drill. Mikan drill,” Whalen said. “When I would go through a stretch with some layups where I’d be struggling, Mikan drill. Got to go back to the basics. He was one of the greatest 50 players of all time.”
Named after former Minneapolis Laker George Mikan, the drill forces a player to complete layup after layup as he or she alternates shooting back-and-forth on each side of the basket.
Whalen’s team enters Thursday’s home game against Northwestern shooting just 32.6% over the past two games, both losses. The Gophers had shot 43.3% in an 11-1 start.
“I like a lot of the looks we got,” Whalen said of the recent losses to Ohio State and Nebraska. “For us, when we can get easy stuff in transition, that really helps us. Turning it up a bit defensively, getting back to the staples. What got us that 11-game win streak was the way we played defensively.”
The transition game was not nearly as strong as the Gophers needed against Nebraska. Minnesota scored only two fast-break points in the 72-58 loss.
To set up that transition game, junior Destiny Pitts said the Gophers need to increase their defensive intensity. To her, that means playing harder, and with an edge.
“As long as our defensive pressure is up, we are going to be able to turn that into great offense,” said Pitts, the Gophers’ leading scorer.
In addition to better defense and improvement in transition, Whalen said the Gophers also need to do a better job of finishing around the basket. More specifically, that means finishing through contact and over and around big inside players.
That’s where the Mikan drill comes into play. Some of finishing comes down to determination, Whalen said. Then constant repetition builds confidence.
Finishing will be vital against Northwestern, which boasts the No. 9 scoring defense in the country. The Wildcats went 12-20 last season, but are 12-2 now, giving up an average of just 53 points per game. They recently upset No. 17 Maryland.
Whalen expects Northwestern to primarily run a zone defense. That could be to Minnesota’s advantage. The way to force a zone defense into man-to-man is through efficient shooting — a Gophers’ strength until recently.
The Gophers especially need Gadiva Hubbard to get back on track. She is their third-highest scorer per game but has made only 15.8% of her shots the past two games.
“We can’t win without her,” Pitts said. “She is a big part of what we do.”
Hubbard attributes her struggles with being hesitant, stemming from a lack of confidence. That only compounds the more shots she misses.
To combat Hubbard’s lack of confidence, Pitts constantly tells her to keep shooting. Whalen also encourages Hubbard from the sideline.
And then there’s Drake, filling her ears. Hubbard is turning to Drake’s music pregame to help boost her confidence.
“As crazy as it sounds, it’s the beat,” Hubbard said. “Before I would listen to slow music, and that would get me calm. I don’t need that anymore. I need upbeat stuff.”
And the Gophers need improved shooting.
Maybe, just maybe the combo of George Mikan and Drake can provide the antidote.