The first pregame warmup shots out of Carlie Wagner’s hand didn’t exactly point to a big day Sunday at Williams Arena. “I wasn’t hitting too many threes, and I thought, ‘This isn’t good,’ ’’ the Gophers guard said.
But even during a recent slump, Wagner never lost faith in her long-range shooting touch. She proved why in the Gophers’ Big Ten home opener, pouring in a career-high 32 points in a 98-85 victory over Penn State. Wagner nailed her first three attempts from three-point range and made 11 of 20 shots, including six of 11 behind the arc.
She wasn’t the only Gopher to show a hot hand before a crowd announced at 3,792. Center Jessie Edwards scored a career-high 22, and she added eight rebounds while helping subdue the taller Lady Lions inside. Edwards and Shayne Mullaney, who both came off the bench, combined to make 12 of 15 shots as the Gophers (9-4, 1-1 Big Ten) shot 49 percent.
The Gophers’ reserves outscored the Lady Lions’ bench 38-9, and Mullaney (10 points) and Rachel Banham (20) joined Wagner and Edwards in double figures. Penn State (6-7, 1-1) never led but stayed on the Gophers’ heels for much of the game. Guard Lindsey Spann scored 30 points with an outside touch as precise as Wagner’s.
“I’m really proud of Carlie,’’ Gophers coach Marlene Stollings said. “She’s one of our hardest workers. You can tell she has a ton of Big Ten experience; it really showed through. I thought her confidence and poise were just solid.’’
Wagner maintained those qualities despite some rough going over the final four games of the nonconference schedule. The Gophers depend heavily on their outside shooting, and Wagner endured her worst dry spell of the season just before the Big Ten schedule began. She made only two of 18 three-point attempts over four games, including an 0-for-10 stretch against the Gophers’ final two nonconference opponents.
The noted gym rat responded by hoisting more shots in practice and listening to her coaches and teammates. They urged her to stay the course, and Sunday she was not dissuaded even after that poor warmup. Banham and Mikayla Bailey staked the Gophers to a 4-0 lead, then Wagner’s trio of three-pointers pushed the margin to 13-2.
Wagner made four of six three-pointers in the first quarter. With a smooth-running Gophers offense keeping Penn State off balance, she got plenty of wide-open looks.
“We lost her quite a few times in transition,’’ Penn State coach Coquese Washington said. “She’s a fantastic talent, one of the most creative and one of the top-scoring guards in our conference. When she gets going early, it’s hard to stop her.’’
The Gophers led 47-41 at halftime behind Wagner’s 17 points. She was only 1-for-3 from three-point range in the second half, but Edwards asserted herself inside, and the Gophers defense shut down several Penn State rallies.
The 6-3 Edwards logged 23 minutes in relief of starter Annalese Lamke, who had one rebound and no points in nine minutes. Edwards made seven of eight shots, scored 15 second-half points and was instrumental in limiting the Lady Lions’ centers, 6-6 Candace Agee and 6-4 Ashanti Thomas. The two combined for nine points as the Gophers outscored Penn State 34-30 in the paint.