Stollings clearly perfect choice halfway through season

Gophers women’s basketball rated in Top-25

by David Nelson

It’s been more than a decade since the Gophers women’s basketball team sprinted to center court and began to sing, “We beat the Dukies.”

Lindsay Whalen, the maestro who helped lead the upset victory over the Blue Devils to advance the Gophers to the Final Four, has since gone on to win two WNBA championships.

The Gophers? Well, they’ve been stuck in mediocrity ever since, which ultimately led to the March 2014 firing of head coach Pam Borton.

But with a 16-2 record just past the halfway marker of this season, it looks like Minnesota might be headed back to the glory days of old.

If it hasn’t been said already, head coach Marlene Stollings looks like the perfect hire.

The Gophers have put together a phenomenal season, boasting an unblemished record on the road and five wins in six contests against Big Ten opponents.

The up-tempo offense Stollings has brought has helped Minnesota put up 76.3 points per game — good enough for 26th in the country.

The high-energy pace wore down Indiana last Sunday, allowing the Gophers to muscle their way back to a 65-61 victory over the Hoosiers.

The game marked Minnesota’s seventh victory without star guard Rachel Banham, who tore her ACL in mid-December.

Perhaps that’s what is making this statement season for Stollings all the more impressive — the Gophers are winning without their best player.

There was no denying the Minnesota roster was laden with talent when Stollings arrived on campus last April.

But when Banham went down, the season could have quickly unraveled.

Instead, Minnesota has persevered by relying on sophomore center Amanda Zahui B. and senior forward Shae Kelley.

The knock on Borton late in her time with the Gophers was her misuse of the talent on the roster, but right away, Stollings has shown she can develop players.

Kelley, who transferred from Old Dominion University, has transitioned seamlessly on the court.

Freshman guard Carlie Wagner has shown throughout the season that the her preseason hype was justified.

Wagner proved to be instrumental in Sunday’s win with her late-game heroics. The win over Indiana marked the first time in program history that the Gophers won 16 of its first 18 games.

Yes, just 18 games into her career at Minnesota and Stollings has already made history.

It will only be a matter of time before the Gophers find themselves back where they were more than a decade  ago.