Before the introductions for Friday’s game, a video montage of the 2018-19 Gophers women’s basketball team filled the Williams Arena scoreboard.
The announced crowd of 14,625 — a team record — clapped and cheered.
After the introductions and before the tipoff of the season against New Hampshire, another montage: this one of Lindsay Whalen, with clips of her career.
This time: Louder, with many standing. Whalen waved to the crowd and smiled. Then she went about her business.
The Gophers’ 70-47 victory over the Wildcats was expected. No surprise.
The fans had come to welcome Whalen back. To see an era begin, each fan getting a commemorative T-shirt upon coming into The Barn from the cold.
It started well.
“Hey, that was fun,’’ Whalen said to the crowd from midcourt after the game. She knew what it was like playing in front of a full house when she was at the U. She was glad her players got to experience the same thing, even if the weather and, perhaps, the volleyball match next door had left some seats empty.
“I was nervous,’’ said center Annalese Lamke, who led all scorers with a career-high 21 points. “I was excited to run up the tunnel and see the stands full. It was our first time seeing that. My chest was pounding. But it was easy as soon as the ball tipped.’’
That’s what might have been the most surprising thing. Everything seemed normal. Whalen striding the sidelines in front of the Gophers bench, exhorting the team, questioning the occasional call, running through her rotation. She said she wasn’t nervous, and she didn’t look it. It was just a matter of going through this the first time to find a rhythm. “When I played I had a routine,’’ she said. “But I felt pretty good.’’
And, though there were some ups and downs, the team looked good. Senior Kenisha Bell had 17 points and eight assists. She and Jasmine Brunson, atop the new man-to-man defense, combined for eight of the team’s 11 steals. The Gophers held New Hampshire to 32.8 percent shooting.
The Gophers started slowly but finished well, scoring 17 points off 19 Wildcats turnovers. Forward Taiye Bello had 14 points and 14 rebounds.
“I wasn’t really nervous at all,’’ Bell said. “I was more excited that we got people to come out. We’ve been working hard. We were able to show people what we did all summer. I thought it was pretty cool we got a lot of people out here.”
Whalen? It did not look like this was her first time through this. She had a good feel for the game. After New Hampshire had cut a double-digit lead to nine early in the third quarter she called a timeout, after which the Gophers went on a 9-0 run, ultimately ending the quarter with a 19-point lead.
“You could feel the momentum had shifted,’’ Whalen said. “We needed to get something good on the next possession. We needed to impose our will, more than anything.’’
After the first week of practice this fall Whalen joked that her team was still undefeated. Now it is, at 1-0, having played its first game.
“It was a good start for us, a good opening game,’’ said Whalen, slipping smoothly into coachspeak like she’d been doing this forever.
She looked at Bell and Lamke. “These two here, our leaders, coming out and doing what they needed to do with a sellout crowd? With some younger players? They led the way. Give them credit.’’
Lamke smiled. She picked a pretty good night for her best collegiate game. “It was exciting to have a career game with a career crowd,’’ she said.