Minnesota aims to improve slow first halves

The Gophers will have an early test with five games in a nine-day period.

Gophers guard Rachel Banham looks to pass on Dec. 1, 2013, against North Dakota.

Amanda Snyder, Daily File Photo

Gophers guard Rachel Banham looks to pass on Dec. 1, 2013, against North Dakota.

Matt Greenstein

The Gophers overcame halftime deficits in two consecutive games last week, emerging victorious in the process.

But despite the victories, senior guard Rachel Banham said the team’s intensity early in the game can improve.

“We don’t bring enough energy from the start. I think the other teams throw the first punch instead of us throwing the first punch,” she said. “I think teams have just been coming out more hyped than we have. We’re not showing the instant fire.”

The Gophers got off to a sluggish start against Cleveland State on Wednesday and entered the locker room down by three points at halftime.

However, they outscored the Vikings by 20 points in the second half.

In the team’s game against Memphis on Sunday, Banham and redshirt sophomore center Amanda Zahui B. were in foul trouble during the first half.

After going into the locker room down by two points, the Gophers strung together a better second half.

But despite the team’s first-half struggles, its depth is helping the Gophers.

“I’m surprised to see how well other players are stepping up,” Banham said. “[Mikayla Bailey] has stepped up. [Joanna Hedstrom] came into the game the other day and stepped up and made plays. Just to see those girls come in and make a difference is huge.”

In the Memphis victory, Bailey, who started in place of injured Shayne Mullaney, played a big role by tying a career high with four 3-pointers and adding three assists.

“You have a lot of people on the bench that can come off and spark [the team],” senior forward Shae Kelley said. “You never know what you’re going to get from anyone on our team on any given night.”

Kelley said the team was able to come out in the second half of the game with a newfound competitive edge on the defensive end.

“We kept it close, and that showed a lot of development for our team,” Kelley said. “In the second half, we picked up the intensity defensively.”

The Gophers will play five games in nine days — including a tournament this weekend — and will need to improve its first-half play.

Head coach Marlene Stollings said she’s confident her team will play well in the upcoming games, even though they are scheduled almost consecutively.

“We have some young ladies who have been used to pacing themselves, and now they don’t have to do that,” she said,

“[The] second half — it’s go time, [but we] certainly want to start the first half stronger than we have these first couple of games.”