Just over a year ago, battling a slew of injuries and COVID-19 cases, the Gophers played host to Drake at Williams Arena with only eight healthy players available and without two starters in a Dec. 2 game that, because of the pandemic, was only Minnesota's second game of the season.
It did not go well.
Coach Lindsay Whalen remembers it well. Guard Sara Scalia was out injured. Key contributors such as forward Laura Bagwell Katalinich and guard Alexia Smith weren't available. Drake hit the ground running and never really stopped in a 99-66 victory.
"We have talked about that game," Whalen said.
And now, the rematch. Some things have changed. The 7-6 Gophers pretty much have their whole roster available. Drake is being coached by Allison Pohlman, who was elevated to the position after Jennie Baranczyk left to coach at Oklahoma.
But some things are the same. Eight letter-winners return for Drake, one of the preseason picks to win the Missouri Valley Conference. That includes key players from last year's Drake victory over the Gophers.
"I have a lot of respect for what they do, how they play," Whalen said. "Going down there with our entire roster is just different. We had eight for that game [last year]. We had a lot of players play their first college game, get their first start, against them. We're feeling healthy, ready to go."
This is the last nonconference game for the Gophers, who have had an up-and-down start to the season. They are coming off a 99-93 victory over Ohio in which the backcourt dominated.
Scalia made nine of 13 three-pointers, 14 of 21 shots overall and scored 37 points. Those nine made threes are the most by a Gophers player — man or woman — ever in Williams Arena.
Point guard Jasmine Powell had 18 points, 11 rebounds and nine assists. Deja Winters — the third guard in Whalen's three-guard starting five — made four of seven threes and scored 16. Guard Gadiva Hubbard came off the bench to score 14.
But now the focus is on getting more production from the frontcourt. Whalen said it was the focus of practice the past week.
"We worked a lot on passing in the post, and working on different things we can do to get those going, Rose [Alanna Micheaux] and Bailey [Helgren] and Kadi [Sissoko] on the block. Having balance is the big thing."
The Gophers are third in the Big Ten Conference in three-point shooting percentage (.379) and first in threes made (114). But they need more production — and more consistency — from the forwards and centers.
Sissoko is third on the team in scoring (11.2 ppg) but has been inconsistent in her shooting. She had 25 points in a 70-67 loss to Nebraska on Dec. 6, making 10 of 19 shots, but then took only four shots and scored three points in a 73-61 loss six days later at Michigan.
Micheaux, a freshman, has already scored 23 points in a game — in a 82-76 loss to North Carolina in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge on Dec. 1 — and is shooting 75.6% from the field but has battled some foul trouble that has, at times, limited her minutes.
"Against Ohio, that's what the game dictated," Whalen said of the team's outside shooting. The Gophers made 18 of 29 three-pointers while scoring only 20 points in the paint. "But there is no question that balance, that inside-outside balance, is what we're looking for."