Shooting slump prompts minutes reduction for Lieser

by Aaron Blake

On a Minnesota women’s basketball team laden with sharp-shooters produced by Brenda (Oldfield) Frese and her offense-happy practices a season ago, one player has found the aftermath to be more strife than sequel.

Having seen her minutes drop significantly throughout the season despite maintaining her starting role, senior Lindsay Lieser found herself sitting throughout Sunday’s 59-56 victory at Indiana. Besides having her 50-game starting streak snapped, Lieser didn’t even come off the bench.

Gophers coach Pam Borton does, however, expect Minnesota’s all-time leading three-point shooter to find her way into the rotation as her team travels to Evanston, Ill., on Thursday to face Northwestern.

The Wildcats are coming off their second Big Ten win of the season – a puzzling 67-38 drubbing of Michigan at home. Borton says the zone defense Northwestern plays caters to a three-point shooter such as Lieser.

“She’s a shooter and that’s her primary role,” Borton said. “When you’re not fulfilling your role – whatever it is – you start to lose confidence.

“Sometimes shooting is the worst strength to have because everybody goes through a shooting slump.”

Battling career lows in nearly every category, Lieser has

particularly combated the hoops during the Big Ten season.

Averaging only 12.1 minutes per game in conference play, Lieser is six for 30 (20 percent) from three-point range and averaging a mere 2.2 points per game.

Comparing these numbers with career averages of 7.8 points per game and 39.2 percent from behind the arc in her first three seasons as a Gopher shows just how much Lieser’s fall from grace has contrasted her usual contributions.

Despite Lieser’s laboring, Minnesota is tied for third in the nation in scoring offense (81.0 points per game) and is second in field-goal shooting (51.9 percent).

Lieser declined comment on the situation to reporters Tuesday.

Borton experimented with plugging freshman point guard Shannon Schonrock into Lieser’s place in the starting lineup on Sunday. Despite Lieser failing to make the rotation all together, Borton insists this wasn’t her plan.

“It’s something I really don’t focus on during the game – especially the way that game was,” Borton said. “I don’t think, ‘Oh my gosh, I’ve got to get so-and-so in because she hasn’t been in.’ That’s not the way I coach.”

For anybody who criticizes her coaching decisions, Borton points to the results she’s getting. The 17th-ranked Gophers are 17-4 and tied for fourth in the Big Ten. The only blemish on their season thus far has been their performance on the road in conference play.

After Borton decided to start Schonrock on Saturday, Minnesota won its first conference road game in five attempts on Sunday.

Nonetheless, Borton won’t credit this move to breaking through and insists the lineup is determined on a game-by-game basis.

Saturday’s decision was based on 2002 Big Ten Player of the Year Lindsay Whalen’s recent struggles. Starting Schonrock instead of Lieser allowed Whalen to shift from point guard to shooting guard.

But Whalen won’t attribute her ensuing 27-point performance to Borton’s move either.

“I’ve played the two and the one my whole life,” Whalen said. “So it’s not really anything different to me Ö Just because I scored more doesn’t mean that’s the reason.”

Only the future knows who will be starting or playing the most opposite Whalen in the other guard spot as the season winds down.

Borton is not making any guarantees, but she knows Lieser’s confidence is the key to being her old self and contributing to the team.

In the meantime, Borton says Schonrock’s play warranted her getting another start on Thursday. Despite her coup, Schonrock knows what Lieser means and has meant to Minnesota’s women’s basketball program.

“She still has a huge role on this team,” Schonrock said. “She’s been in every big game this team has played, so obviously you look to her for leadership.”

Meanwhile, the Gopher who leads everyone in every three-point category in the program’s history will have to sit on her next chance to lead her team on the court.

McCarville questionable

Big Ten Freshman of the Year Janel McCarville is questionable for Thursday’s game at Northwestern. The Gophers’ third-leading scorer hit her head on the court after fouling out on Sunday and suffered a minor concussion. She has not taken part in team practices this week.

Aaron Blake covers women’s basketball and welcomes comments at [email protected]