Freshman duo gives hope to women’s hoops

Minnesota women’s basketball freshmen Lindsay Lieser and Kim Prince are not used to losing.
In her last two years at George Washington Carver High School in Montgomery, Ala., Prince led the Wolverines to a 43-11 mark. She averaged 20 points and 10 rebounds per game as a senior.
Meanwhile, Lieser was making the three-point shot look like a tap-in birdie putt at New London-Spicer High in New London, Minn. Her team went 96-12 during her tenure and won the Minnesota Class AA title in 1997.
Lieser owns both the single season and career mark for three-pointers made by a Minnesota high school girl. Prince was an all-metro pick and team MVP as a senior in Alabama.
The good news for Gophers fans is Lieser is continuing to break records with her three-point shot while Prince, a post player, is shooting nearly 50 percent in conference play.
The bad news is the two rookies are now on a much different team, in a much different set of circumstances.
“I thought maybe since they had a bad year (last season) that we would be better this year,” Prince said.
That’s optimism.
Minnesota has enjoyed great production from Prince and Lieser but the team continues to struggle — to the point where even freshmen feel pressure to pick up their game.
Lieser’s three-pointer, with less than a minute to go against Iowa on Sunday, was her 64th of the season, a new Gophers record. It cut the Hawkeyes’ lead to 77-53.
Lieser and sophomore teammate Cassie VanderHeyden rank first and second in three-pointers in the Big Ten respectively; yet Minnesota has a dismal 2-12 conference record.
“It’s definitely a huge mental adjustment from knowing we’re going to shatter a team’s confidence (in high school) to now trying to come out and show a team that we can play,” she said.
It’s an adjustment that has forced the high school star to deal with a lot tougher competition.
There was a time when the three-point gimme seemed as long as a Tiger Woods’ drive for Lieser. After leading the team in scoring in her first two games, teams began to key on Minnesota’s new shooter.
“Lindsay had a great nonconference but then the Big Ten was kind of a shock for her,” Gophers coach Cheryl Littlejohn said. “She had to make some adjustments.”
Lieser credits her teammates, including friend and roommate VanderHayden, for helping her get open looks at the hoop.
“I love (the team); they help me with things that maybe I don’t notice out there,” she said.
One thing that Lieser does notice is the improved play of Prince, who contributed 44 points in the last three games for Minnesota — off the bench. She shot 65 percent from the field during that stretch.
“Kim is bringing up the intensity of the entire team,” she said.
Life as a Gopher hasn’t always been golden for Prince either.
The newcomer found it difficult to balance her basketball and academic life during her first semester at the U. Littlejohn said she focused so much on staying on top of her studies that it affected her play.
That’s a problem not typically associated with the women’s basketball team.
“We’re taking care of our business,” Littlejohn said.
Life on the basketball court has been a different story. Littlejohn has run into some bad luck with her other freshmen, with injuries and the loss of high school Nike All-American Natea Motley, who left the team earlier this season.
Even Prince’s team-high of 14 points Sunday did not come without a second half injury to her left ankle. She is questionable for tonight’s game at No. 6 Penn State.
The Gophers are preparing for another David vs. Goliath tangle with the conference-leading Lions. In their last meeting, they had five more turnovers than points. Still, the new class is dreaming of a time when things will be different.
“Oh yes, definitely,” Lieser says with a smile. “That would be great.”
Last time Penn State showed no mercy. This time the Gophers could use a little mercy — or at least a chance to make the best team in the conference feel like they’re not going up against the worst.
“We’ve got nothing to lose,” coach Cheryl Littlejohn said.
Losing is one thing Penn State (22-3, 13-1 Big Ten) has not done much this year. The Lions can clinch the Big Ten title with a win over last-place Minnesota (9-16, 2-12 Big Ten).
“They’ve got a great shot at winning the national championship,” she said. “They create turnovers and their post players run like deer.”