Zahui B. matures into critical role

Amanda Zahui B. is just a freshman, but she is turning heads this season.

Minnesota center Amanda Zahui B. looks to pass against Kansas on Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2013 at Williams Arena.

Daily File Photo, Chelsea Gortmaker

Minnesota center Amanda Zahui B. looks to pass against Kansas on Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2013 at Williams Arena.

Jack Satzinger

Gophers freshman center Amanda Zahui B. tenses and smiles nervously around the media. She doesn’t like the attention.

But she better get used to it, because the Swedish import is one helluva player.

In her first season on campus, Zahui B. is shattering records and racking up awards while leading Minnesota’s front line.

She broke the program’s single-season blocks record with six games left in the regular season. Former Gophers great Janel McCarville previously held the record with 65 blocks.

“I love blocking shots,” Zahui B. said. “That’s a hype thing, and when I get good blocks, that pumps me up.”

Zahui B. currently has 78 blocks this season, but she does more than just send away shots for the Gophers.

She leads the Big Ten in rebounding with 10.8 boards per game. And excelling at cleaning the glass plus blocking shots at historic rates has her piling up awards — she’s earned Big Ten Freshman of the Week honors a conference-high six times this season.

Zahui B. has also captured the attention of national analysts.

“I was able to watch Zahui [B.] against Miami, and I was super impressed,” ESPN women’s basketball bracketologist Charlie Creme said. “I read about her and I was impressed, but then I got to see her play, and I was even more impressed.”  

Zahui B. showed her ability early this season, posting 28 points in an exhibition game against Winona State. While she showed more flashes of dominance in games that followed, in other games, she’d disappear because of foul trouble.

That was a problem in the past, but Zahui B. hasn’t fouled out since the Gophers lost at Penn State in January. That’s because she’s learned to defend better.

“She’s playing smarter,” head coach Pam Borton said. “She’s playing a lot more mature. I think she understands the situation that she’s in.”

This isn’t the first time Zahui B. has showed signs of great improvement in her career. She redshirted last season and was overweight at the time, but that’s not the case anymore.

Now the Gophers center uses her size to bully opponents down low.

“I was not in shape when I got here,” Zahui B. said. “I thought I was in good shape.”

She said improving her fitness has played a critical role in her development. 

And her high potential has her eyeing more records. In a win at Northwestern two weeks ago, she tallied a career-high 18 rebounds.

The Gophers program record for rebounds in a single game is 25, and McCarville is the only other Gophers player to nab at least 18 rebounds in a game since 2004.

“It’s crazy to get 18 rebounds, but I know with time I’ll become better — and hopefully I’ll be able to break that,” Zahui B. said. “I have three years left, so I’ve got some time.”

That’s what scares Big Ten opponents most about the Swedish center — she’s going to be around for three more years.

“She’s just a freshman, so I think that her potential is crazy,” Purdue center Camille Redmon said.

Still, Zahui B. knows her potential will only be realized if she continues to improve in all areas of her game.

“I just have to keep on working hard to get better and not settle,” she said.