It’s been nearly a century since American humorist George Ade wrote, “Anybody can Win, unless there happens to be a Second Entry.”
No, he wasn’t writing about the Gophers women’s basketball team, though such a quip could be easily confused for a summation of the team’s performance to date.
A combination of inexperience, lack of depth and sloppy play have put the team in familiar territory: the cellar of the Big Ten.
After a month and a half of forgettable basketball, the Gophers stand at 2-10, 0-3 in conference play — good enough for a dismal 11th place. Defending champion Iowa is in first, undefeated in the Big Ten.
Injuries continue to riddle the Gophers. Junior guard Jamie Ellis has been hampered by a stress fracture suffered late in the preseason. Her lack of playing time has left coach Linda Hill-MacDonald relying on freshman Kiauna Burns to run the offense, with mixed results.
Burns has shown flashes of quickness and offensive ability, but she has also proven turnover-prone. In Friday’s game at Indiana, Burns played 27 minutes — most of them at point guard — and coughed up nine turnovers.
“When we needed the team to settle down,” Hill-MacDonald said, “I couldn’t put in the veteran point guard (Ellis) for leadership. We couldn’t even move Kiauna to (shooting guard), her natural position.”
The Gophers’ slim roster has also forced Hill-MacDonald to leave her rotation on the floor for longer than she would prefer.
“I like to think that having nine or 10 players to rotate in and out would have a positive impact,” Hill-MacDonald said, “but I don’t really know because we just don’t have those players. We’re still trying to work it all out.”
The Gophers are down, but this is not a team without positives on which to fall back. Most of the Gophers’ bench — forwards Sonja Robinson, Lynda Hass and Sarah Klun and center Andrea Seago — has reached career highs in a variety of categories.
“That’s what we look to to build confidence right now,” Hill-MacDonald said.
Junior center-forward Angie Iverson is having a career year, averaging double figures in scoring and rebounds. She leads the Big Ten in rebounding with 13 per game.
Sophomore Mindy Hansen is second on the team in scoring, with 12 points per game, and has emerged as the Gophers’ emotional leader.
“In the Indiana game we started to come back,” Iverson said, “and (Hansen) was jumping up and down and screaming, ‘We can do it, guys!’ She’s been great.”
The Gophers have not yet exhibited the sort of visible frustration that often overcomes struggling teams. For that, Hill-MacDonald said, the team deserves a lot of credit.
“They’re saying, ‘We’re just never going to give up,'” Hill-MacDonald said. “That’s one thing about this team: We’re not going to pay attention to what anybody says or thinks or how a game goes. We’re just going to try to bounce back. That’s a real positive.”
“It might not have been like that last year,” she said. “We would have been moping back to the bench. The energy is there, we just have to get a win and get on a roll.”
In what appears to be a more balanced, improved conference, that elusive streak-breaking victory may be a while in coming. Even Michigan, which foundered to a 7-20 record (1-15 in the Big Ten) last season, is on the rise. The Wolverines have the best overall record in the conference (10-2) and sit in a five-way tie for second.
“The worst is looking up at the end of the game at the scoreboard and seeing we lost another game,” Iverson said. “You never get used to losing.”