Minneapolis – What a start to Lindsay Whalen’s coaching career.
After all the hype around the celebrated former Gopher and WNBA star becoming the head coach of her alma mater, it was finally time to see what Minnesota had on the court Friday, as the team took on New Hampshire in their season opener. A program-record 14,625 fans cheered Whalen’s young team to their first win, 70-47.
Senior Annalese Lamke led the Gophers with a career-high 21 points, while Kenisha Bell added 17 and Taiye Bello scored 14 points and grabbed 14 rebounds.
“Not too bad,” Whalen said when asked if she felt nervous. “When I played you had a routine and how you want things to go, so I guess it was just going through it for the first time, but I felt pretty good.”
Under coach Marlene Stollings, who resigned last spring after four years to take the Texas Tech coaching job, the Gophers focused a lot on high-octane offense. Whalen’s approach, in contrast, is defense-oriented, getting her players to switch from the zone they were used to in previous years to a man-to-man scheme. The players adjusted to it well, for the most part, slipping up a couple times for easy backdoor baskets for New Hampshire.
After leading by as much as 18 early in the third quarter, the Fisher Cats cut it to seven and Whalen quickly called a timeout.
“You could feel the momentum had shifted at one point,” Whalen said. “We needed to get a good possession and impose our will.”
Out of the break, the game was all Minnesota, as they allowed just nine points in the entire period and extended their lead to 19 going into the final frame. They controlled the game the rest of the way, inflating their lead to as much as 27.
Whalen thanked fans after the game, and said the Gophers are looking forward to the season.
“We are excited about every opportunity and every game that we get to play,” she said. “If it’s home or away, we have a special group so it will be good to get some good momentum at home. In order to have a memorable season you have to win at home.”
Luckily for Minnesota and fans, nine of the team’s next 11 games are home, keeping them there for most of 2018. One of the two road games in the stretch comes Nov. 14, when the team travels to Xavier to take on the Musketeers.