Minnesota off to hot start with help from newcomers and vets

The Gophers have won their first two games by 10 or more points each.

Sophomore guard Carlie Wagner jumps into the arms of teammate Shayne Mullaney after her game-winning shot in overtime against Ohio State in Williams Arena on Wednesday night.

Kathryn Chlystek, Daily File Photo

Sophomore guard Carlie Wagner jumps into the arms of teammate Shayne Mullaney after her game-winning shot in overtime against Ohio State in Williams Arena on Wednesday night.

Dominic Davis

Minnesota has started the season well, winning its first two games by 10 or more points.

The Gophers have shot over 47 percent from the field through two games while three or more players have scored in double digits in the first two games.

New additions to Minnesota are making big contributions, leading to the team’s early success.

“I think we’re really deep this year,” said junior guard Carlie Wagner. “The newcomers actually offer a lot to us. They came in experienced and ready to go.”

The Gophers finished 20-12 overall and 11-7 in the Big Ten last season and reached the second round of the WNIT. Their goal this season is to win the Big Ten and make the NCAA tournament.

“We talk about the NCAA tournament every day,” said junior center Bryanna Fernstrom. “The team talks about how great we need to be to beat those teams and to make the tournament.”

Sophomore guard Kenisha Bell performed well against VCU after missing the first game. She scored 24 points, provided eight assists, four rebounds and two steals to help lead the Gophers to their 2-0 start.

Minnesota believes it can compete with the toughest teams in the Big Ten for the top spot in the conference.

Rachel Banham was a star for the Gophers for four years, finishing as the all time leading scorer, but the team is ready to show what they can do without her.

“She brought some notoriety to women’s basketball that the sport has not seen in many, many years,” said head coach Marlene Stollings. “Something we’re focusing on is a more group-nominated team, and one that can share the ball on a much higher level.”

Stollings said she doesn’t want all the pressure on one player and their new style of play will make sure they don’t rely on one person.

Wagner was a key player for Minnesota last season and is ready to take on a leadership role.

“I’ve had enough experience now where I’m in that position where I’m confident in what I can do and offer my teammates,” Wagner said.

Stollings has high expectations for Wagner going into her third year.

“She knows our system. She knows the expectations, and what we’ve seen out of [Wagner] thus far is that she’s really been able to excel in a different part of her game because of the speed and quickness that’s around her on the perimeter,” Stollings said. “We’re going to see her be able to score in some different ways this year.”

Wagner has scored 27 and 26 points in the first two games and is shooting 36.5 percent from the 3-point line.

The Gophers are embracing their tough schedule, which includes top programs such as Georgetown and Seton Hall, which visits this weekend.

“It will be very challenging for us,” Stollings said. “If you love to play basketball, you love playing against the top-level caliber teams. I think our kids are really excited about it.”

Playing against top schools from around the country is beneficial and will prepare this team for the Big Ten.

“Every game is going to be a battle in our nonconference,” Wagner said. “There’s not going to be any cupcake games. We want to get better. We want to play the best of the best.”

Emily Polglaze contributed to this report.