Quick turnaround has Gophers back on the road out east

Minnesota will face North Carolina State in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.

Matt Greenstein

The Gophers traveled to Florida, played three games, journeyed home and flew to the East Coast — where they will take on a defense-oriented North Carolina State team Wednesday — in just under a week’s time.

The total trek covered more than 4,500 miles. But senior guard Rachel Banham said the quick turnaround won’t factor into the team’s upcoming performance.

“I don’t think we’re going to let it affect us at all,” she said. “We’ve battled through more adversity than that, and we have to be tougher than the other team.”

The Wolfpack allows its opponents to score an average of 59.6 points per game.

Minnesota head coach Marlene Stollings said NC State’s defensive presence will be a challenge, but Minnesota’s up-tempo offense is ready to go.

“They’re a good defensive team. It’s going to be really important for us to get stops on the defensive end of the floor and rebound the ball,” Stollings said.

She also said her team needs to get more steals and deflections so it can run in transition.

“We’re going to really try hard to get out in our great pace,” Stollings said.

NC State’s tenacity on the defensive side of the ball has given it an average of 10.6 steals per game.

Minnesota’s ball control hasn’t been an issue, as it has committed only 99 turnovers in seven games.

Freshman guard Carlie Wagner said ball control will play a big role in the team’s strategy.

“We have to be poised when we play,” she said. “[We] have to make good decisions.”

The Gophers found some success from behind the arc over the weekend, and Banham said 3-pointers will continue to be a part of their strategy in Wednesday’s matchup.

“Coach loves the threes.” Banham said. “It’s still in the game plan to go down [the court] and shoot it.”

Stollings said the team’s goal each game is to get to the free-throw line at least 20 times.

But Minnesota will have to be more aggressive against the Wolfpack, as NC State is allowing its opponents just 17.5 attempts per game.

One way the Gophers can become more aggressive is with the help of senior forward Shae Kelley.

Kelley leads the team in free-throw attempts with 51, and Stollings said her aggressiveness is essential to the team’s success.

“[Kelley] sets the tone for everybody else on the team. She gets people involved and follows her shot. We expect her to get better at that and expect her to get better at the free-throw line,” Stollings said.

Kelley also provides the Gophers with a strong all-around performance each game.

She ranks in the top 10 in the NCAA in double-doubles, and her  aggressiveness has helped spark the team’s offense.

Minnesota’s rebounding has struggled lately.

At the Gulf Coast Showcase last weekend, Minnesota was outrebounded 131-107.

“We have a long way to go in a lot of areas,” Stollings said. “It’s exciting for us to be able to play that caliber of competition. Our schedule doesn’t slow down, so we have to clean up quickly.”