The numbers look the same, but Lindsay Whalen and her players say things feel different.
Saturday at Williams Arena the Gophers (10-1) pushed their winning streak to 10 games with a 77-49 victory over a Minnesotan-laden Lehigh team.
It was the end of the nonconference schedule for the Gophers, who will play at Penn State next Saturday in their Big Ten opener.
Destiny Pitts led four Gophers in double figures with 19 points, hitting three of five three-pointers. Freshman point guard Jasmine Powell had 14 points, five rebounds and three assists. Freshman Sara Scalia and Masha Adashchyk each scored 12.
A year ago the Gophers cruised through a relatively easy nonconference schedule 11-0. And then the conference schedule came and they started 2-7.
This year, a tougher nonconference schedule, plus a year of experience in Whalen’s system, could make a difference.
“Last year was a little different for us,’’ said Pitts, who scored eight of her 19 points in the first quarter, when the Gophers used a 17-2 run to take control of the game. “We were learning [a new system] and stuff. “And I feel the quality of our opponents will help us for Big Ten play.’’
Whalen emphasized rebounding and defense while preparing for this game, and it worked. Lehigh’s 49 points were a season low for a Gophers foe, and the Mountain Hawks shot just 31.7% overall and were 2-for-16 on three-pointers. The Gophers outrebounded Lehigh 50-39.
Whalen especially liked the way her team came out aggressively in the opening quarter, holding Lehigh to 5-for-20 shooting in the first 10 minutes and scoring 13 points in the paint.
“We set the tone,’’ Whalen said. “I just loved how aggressive we were on offense as well. Attacking the basket and a couple drive-and-kick-out threes. These guys played hard. Nothing was easy against us.’’
Emma Grothaus, who played at Mahtomedi High School, led Lehigh with 16 points and had eight rebounds. Mariah Sexe (East Ridge) had 10 points and Hannah Hedstrom (Minnetonka) had seven points.
And now comes the Big Ten schedule.
“I feel good we’re 10-1,’’ Whalen said. “We had a harder nonconference schedule. Our guys battled every night, put us in position to go into the Big Ten season feeling really good.’’
A year of experience in the system will help. But Whalen is using two and sometimes three freshmen in her rotation. Scalia starts, Powell is the first guard off the bench and Klarke Sconiers has been the first big off the bench the last two games. It will be up to Whalen and the veterans to let them know what’s coming.
“I think we’re prepared for what’s ahead of us,’’ Powell said. “I think we’ll do great as a team.’’