Last Thursday, as first-year Gophers women’s basketball coach Lindsay Whalen walked off the court after a last-second loss at Maryland, it was the worst she’d felt about a game since the fall of 2016.
Then? An at-the-buzzer loss to the Los Angeles Sparks at Target Center in Game 5 of the WNBA Finals.
Last week? A 71-69 loss at Maryland that ended the Gophers’ six-game Big Ten winning streak.
“It was tough,” Whalen said. “A gut punch, for sure.”
The Gophers (19-8 overall, 8-8 in conference play) have to regroup for a final push. The combination of a weak nonconference schedule and a stretch in conference play when the team lost seven of eight has made the Gophers a long shot to make the NCAA tournament unless they win the Big Ten tournament for an automatic bid.
But there is an opportunity. The Gophers — 106th in the NCAA’s RPI rankings — finish up the regular season at Rutgers (RPI: 27) on Thursday and home against Michigan State (39) Sunday. It would appear the Gophers need to win both games, then perhaps two in the Big Ten tournament to get serious at-large tournament consideration.
Of course, the Gophers have to prepare for Rutgers first, getting rid of the bad feelings from Maryland.
To that end Whalen gave her players the weekend off after a month of constant work. The last few days have featured intense practice sessions.
“It was tough,” guard Kenisha Bell said of the Maryland loss. “But it’s a learning experience, too. But we’re going to take that loss and play harder the next game.”
The Gophers were up 16 midway through the third quarter in Maryland, up 11 entering the fourth and up 69-62 with less than one minute left before Maryland, taking advantage of Gophers turnovers, closed the game on a 9-0 run — including six points from Kaila Charles, the final two on a layup at the buzzer.
“We can’t do anything about that game now,” guard Jasmine Brunson said. “And we have a really big game [Thursday] at Rutgers. So we have to put the Maryland game in the past.”
The Gophers have bounced back from adversity once already this season. It’s time to do it again.
“We came back Monday and had a great practice,” Whalen said. “And had a great practice [Tuesday]. Now it’s on to Rutgers. Our team is so resilient. We’ll put everything we have into Rutgers and I think we’ll be good to go.”