Gophers women's basketball coach Lindsay Whalen started Tuesday's practice quizzing her players about the Indiana Hoosiers. She talked about Ali Patberg and Grace Berger, two Indiana guards. About Jaelynn Penn. And then:
"Who is their leading scorer?" Whalen asked.
"Mackenzie Holmes," Kayla Mershon said, referring to Indiana's 6-3 forward/center. Mershon went on to explain how Holmes was scoring, how effective she was in the pick-and-roll.
"Why do you need to know these things?" Whalen said. Because the Gophers play those Hoosiers on Wednesday afternoon.
"Yes, we get to play," Whalen said. "And you get to play as well."
That's how Whalen let Mershon know the Big Ten had approved her transfer waiver, that Mershon was about to make her Gophers debut against the Hoosiers.
Last week the NCAA allowed a waiver for transfers to become eligible immediately. But it wasn't until Tuesday morning that the Big Ten signed off as well. The 6-3 Mershon, a former Minnetonka High School star, adds immediate depth and Big Ten experience to the post, something the Gophers need.
"She's ready to go," Whalen said. "She looked good in practice today. To her credit, she has practiced like she's playing. This is her third year of college basketball. She knows the deal. So she's ready to go."
Perhaps the Gophers, on a three-game losing streak, will be, too.
With much of November wiped out because of injury and illness, the Gophers had just seven players for their opener and eight for their second game. Now, with Mershon, the Gophers have 12 — and all have been available to practice during this week-plus break between games.
Whalen said it was a crucial time. With the team averaging nearly 20 turnovers per game while struggling on both ends of the court, the Gophers needed a healthy roster and some time, and they got it.
Whalen gave her team a couple of days off for rest and for finals. But the Gophers had five full practice sessions. The first two Whalen mixed up her roster, created two sides and scrimmaged. Hard.
More recently she and her staff have worked on simplifying the offense with the aim of better execution and fewer turnovers.
Now, Whalen said, the key is seeing the progress she has seen in practice carried over into games: "I want to see our team start the game well."
Mershon should help, though she might not start. After winning a Class 4A state championship in high school, Mershon started 15 of 60 games with Nebraska in two seasons there, averaging 2.4 points and 2.8 rebounds.
She is already providing veteran leadership, and Whalen believes her biggest impact will come on defense — with her size and anticipation in the post.
She will be a part of a rotation there with Klarke Sconiers and Laura Bagwell-Katalinich, herself a graduate transfer from Cornell.
"This gives us more of a veteran rotation there," Whalen said.
It also will allow Whalen to play Kadi Sissoko almost exclusively at small forward.
"Now we're going to see what it's like, now that everyone is available," Whalen said.