Gophers adjust to up-tempo style

Minnesota has emphasized its transition offense under a new coach.

Matt Greenstein

The phrase “good defense leads to good offense” has become one of the most widely-used clichés in sports.

But with Minnesota’s new up-tempo style of play, the Gophers are flipping the script.

“We feel like the better we’re playing offensively, it generates solid defense,” head coach Marlene Stollings said. “We kind of go opposite of what most people believe in that capacity.”

Stollings said she has preached to her players that it’s important they get their hands in the passing lanes and grab rebounds to get the offense running.

“That’s certainly an area of improvement, and we’re working diligently in those spots,” she said.

In Minnesota’s lone loss of the season, it forced only six steals and was outrebounded by 17.

“When we played Vanderbilt, we got absolutely no rebounds and steals or deflections to lead to offense,” senior guard Rachel Banham said. “That was another reason we didn’t win. It’s big for us to get stops on defense and be able to push [our offense] out faster.”

One of the reasons the Gophers have gotten out quickly in transition is due tobecause of senior forward Shae Kelley.

“She’s a great scorer, especially in transition. She’s so fast,” Banham said. “I don’t think anyone can guard that speed. I think she’s one of the best people in transition.”

Kelley said last month she has settled in well with Minnesota’s up-tempo system.

“We get out and run. I’m getting the rebound and the wings are going,” Kelley said.

After scoring double figures in the first seven games of the season, Kelley has since looked out of sync with the team and has struggled offensively, scoring a combined 17 points in the past two games.

“She [has to] contribute for us to have success on the championship level. … She’s a very experienced player, and she’ll settle in. We’re not too worried about that part,” Stollings said.

But the head coach said she wants Kelley to be more aggressive.

“That’s her game and her style,” Stollings said. “We’ve really talked about — ‘Go ahead and take the pull- up jumper. Sometimes you’re not going to get all the way to the basket.’”

With Kelley’s recent struggle, Stollings has had to adjust her game plan that has allowed for the fast-paced Gophers to thrive.

While the Gophers love to run the floor, Stollings said there are times when they’ll slow it down to set up their offense.

Redshirt sophomore Amanda Zahui B. provides the Gophers with an inside presence, which Banham said has been important for the team.

“We’re not a huge defensive team. Offense is where we need to make things happen,” Banham said. “Amanda has stepped up and scored more in the presence of Shae not scoring.”

Zahui B.’s ability to draw attention with double teams has allowed for her to become a pseudo-point guard.

“She’s just such a great passer. She has good court awareness,” Stolling said. “We invite that. If [opponents] want to double her down there, go ahead.”

Zahui B.’s post presence has also allowed other shooters to thrive in transition, Banham said.

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