Shannon Bolden sat with a broad smile on her face Tuesday as she responded to questions at a weekly press conference.
After Minnesota women’s basketball’s leading scorer Lindsay Whalen broke two bones in her hand last Wednesday at Ohio State, Bolden and the Gophers are finally hearing good news and are calling up a rallying cry to finish their season.
News came on Tuesday that Whalen might return as early as the first round of the NCAA Tournament, giving the Gophers a boost and concentrating their efforts.
The 11th-ranked Gophers (19-4, 8-4 Big Ten) will try to bring that to the court tonight in Iowa City, Iowa, as they finish a three-game road trip against the Hawkeyes (14-9, 8-4 Big Ten).
“We all have in the back of our heads that (Whalen) will find some way to get back soon,” Bolden said. “So right now we’re doing everything we can in these games.”
On Feb. 12 against Ohio State, Whalen collided with another player and came down on her hand in the first half. But the Gophers still outscored the Buckeyes in the second half without Whalen, and the momentum has remained.
Last Sunday, the Gophers rallied around Bolden and guards Kelly Roysland and Shannon Schonrock to defeat the Illini 63-54 in Champagne, Ill.
Bolden scored a career-high 18 points in the victory, 14 of which came in the second half.
“It helped my confidence offensively because I knew that I could shoot and knock the shot down,” Bolden said.
Coach Pam Borton said to win their remaining Big Ten games, the Gophers are going to need players to step up like Bolden did Sunday.
“The team has a ‘we’re holding down the fort’ kind of thing going on,” Borton said.
Continuing to win requires the Gophers to learn new roles to compensate for the 30-plus minutes Whalen can no longer contribute.
Six-foot-three freshman Jaime Broback will spend more time at guard and work more in practice on her outside game. Freshman post player Liz Podominick will also likely see more time.
But the player seeing the most change will likely be freshman Kelly Roysland, who is now starting at guard and will have to work on her point guard skills backing up Schonrock.
With Schonrock playing almost the entire game, the Gophers will need Roysland to handle the ball, especially late in games.
A different style of play is already evident in the Whalen-less Gophers as they ran more offensive set plays in the Illinois game. It represents a big change from the quick-paced transition and motion-offensive style of play that the Gophers had been accustomed to with Whalen.
But the players said they will come together to fulfill their new roles.
“We are all ready to learn and do what the coaches ask of us,” Roysland said.
The Gophers said they feel their rallying cry will pay off and their new roles and responsibilities will make them an even better team than before the injury.
“We’ll be a lot more well-rounded because we will be more aggressive offensively,” Bolden said.
ï Whalen was named one of 20 finalists for the Naismith award on Tuesday. The award goes to the top player in women’s college basketball. The winner will be announced April 9 in Atlanta.
ï Also on Tuesday, Whalen and junior center Janel McCarville were both included in a list of 21 players vying for the Wade Trophy, another top player honor. The winner will be selected during the Final Four in New Orleans from April 3-6.