Amanda Zahui B. doesn't usually check her statistics during games. But in Saturday's victory over Michigan, the Gophers center caught a glimpse of the video display at Williams Arena and saw she had 26 rebounds, a number that impressed everyone but her.
The sophomore had grabbed 29 rebounds only four nights earlier, establishing a Big Ten single-game record as the Gophers defeated 13th-ranked Iowa. So the way she viewed it, she had room to improve. "I really tried to get to 29," Zahui said Monday, as the Gophers prepared for Tuesday's game at Nebraska. "That's the goal, always trying to become better. If I set a goal or set a record, then I need to break it."
Monday, Zahui was chosen espnW's national women's basketball player of the week for her performances in victories over Iowa and Michigan. After scoring a career-high 39 points to go with those 29 rebounds against the Hawkeyes, she followed up with 27 points and 27 rebounds against the Wolverines while playing all 50 minutes of a two-overtime game.
Gophers coach Marlene Stollings said she has challenged her entire roster to play with more intensity as it chases a top-four seed in next week's Big Ten tournament. Zahui took those words to heart, and her zeal has powered the Gophers to five consecutive victories.
"It's historic what we're being able to witness," Stollings said of Zahui, who leads the Gophers with 18.6 points and 12.7 rebounds per game. "And the scary thing and the good thing is, I feel she's only scratched the surface of how great she can really become."
Zahui said her cell phone has overflowed with texts and tweets from well-wishers after her two monster games. NFL star Larry Fitzgerald Jr. and Gophers legend Lindsay Whalen tweeted praise, and the ESPN Stats and Info Twitter account called her performance against Iowa "arguably the game of the year in women's college basketball."
In that game, Zahui surpassed 1,000 points for her Gophers career. Her nine blocked shots in the two victories gave her 109 for the season, breaking her Gophers record of 105 set last year; she also shot 54 percent, made both three-pointers she tried and hit 12 of 13 free throws.
Stollings is especially pleased at how Zahui responded after she viewed game film from a slump in late January and early February. The Gophers lost four of five games when their energy sagged, and Zahui sets the tone.
"I think she saw that the team really relies on her from that perspective,'' Stollings said. "She's our leader out there. We feed off her energy."
That lit a spark in Zahui that reached full flame last week, one she said will keep burning in a heart that isn't satisfied yet.
"I definitely had to play more aggressive, and just be that player that takes on that bigger role,'' she said. "I don't feel I had played very well the games before [Iowa and Michigan]. I told myself, 'You have to stand up. We're getting closer to March.'
"I'm surprised it's going this well, that I'm actually doing what I'm dreaming about. I just really work hard, and I'm determined I'm going to become the best. I don't think anything can stop me but myself."