Freshman class makes up a bright spot on women’s basketball team

Taiye Bello recently scored a career-high 19 points in a Feb. 8 loss to Penn State.

Gophers forward Taiye Bello handles the ball at Williams Arena on Nov. 12, 2016.

Maddy Fox, Daily File Photo

Gophers forward Taiye Bello handles the ball at Williams Arena on Nov. 12, 2016.

Dominic Davis

The Gophers have had big changes to the roster within the last year.

While freshmen and transfers make up a significant portion of the squad, the freshmen class has been a bright spot in what has been a roller-coaster season.

With freshmen Taiye Bello and Jasmine Brunson in the starting lineup, Minnesota (14-12, 5-8 Big Ten) has posted a 3-1 record in its last four games.

Bello has inserted herself at the center position. She is currently starting over Jessie Edwards and Bryanna Fernstrom, upperclassmen who would usually start in that position.

“It is definitely a battle in terms of getting playing time,” Bello said. “It keeps us competitive as post players.”

The freshman scored a career-high 19 points in the team’s loss to Penn State last Wednesday.

Head coach Marlene Stollings is telling her to take more smart shots after Bello displayed what she can do on the offensive end.

“Taiye works extremely hard,” Brunson said. “She’s really hard on herself, very critical of herself, so to see her have a game like that is really exciting.”

Brunson has been a threat to opposing teams on the defensive end. She is quick on her feet, which makes life difficult for opposing guards trying to score inside.

The freshman guard continues to figure out her place in Minnesota’s offense, but after shooting 3-6 from the field against Northwestern on Monday, she seems to know where she is most efficient on the court.

Using her speed, she can get to the hoop when there is an opening.

But Brunson plays for the team and tries to do what is best for the team to win games.

“Just locking in and listening to instruction,” Brunson said. “That’s been a big thing for me this year. Working on translating what we work on in practice into the game.”

Making the transition to college basketball is difficult for many players, but Brunson said Minnesota’s freshmen are handling the change well thanks to the upperclassmen having their backs.

Junior guard Carlie Wagner has been the most influential teammate to Brunson.

“I talk to her a lot. She’s always encouraging me to just play my game, go out and have fun, and take in what the coaches are saying.”

Stollings understands there is a learning curve for young players.

She said young players are getting used to collegiate-level basketball as they are taking on more responsibility in games and at practice.

“Their confidence level is really showing. They are earning the minutes and they are getting more comfortable out there. The game is slowing down to them,” Stollings said.

The potential this team has excites Stollings and gives her hope for the end of this season and future seasons.

“The possibility of an enormous jump is there with the youth gaining this experience,” Stollings said. “Everybody that’s playing the bulk of the minutes will be back for us next year.”