Defense the key to success against Cleveland State

Minnesota will have a rare noon tip-off on Wednesday against the Vikings.

Matt Greenstein

The Gophers pulled off a convincing victory in their season opener on Friday.

And that’s why head coach Marlene Stollings said the team is going to keep the same starting lineup for Wednesday’s game.

Stollings said redshirt sophomore Amanda Zahui B. will continue coming off the bench as she rebounds from a previous injury.

“She’s very close to being back to her normal self, [and she] can certainly earn the right to be back in the starting lineup,” Stollings said. “We like to have the competition going on, and when she earns that right at some point, then she’ll get back into the lineup. Regardless of that, she’s going to play a large number of minutes and be very beneficial to what we’re doing here early on.”

Zahui B. was a major defensive presence last game with five blocks in Minnesota’s 109-60 victory over Southeastern Louisiana.

The team had a solid defensive showing, recording 12 blocks and 10 steals, but senior guard Rachel Banham said it could still improve.

“We won by a lot, [but] I still feel that they shouldn’t have scored as many points as they did. We just have to clean up some things defensively, and I think that’s something we’ve been working on,” Banham said.

One way freshman Carlie Wagner said the team is trying to step up its defensive game is by improving its communication.

Stollings is very animated on the sideline, yelling assignments to her players, which Wagner said helps the team.

“It’s a matchup zone we’re trying to get down now, and [there are] still pieces of the puzzle we’re trying to figure out with it, so we need to talk and communicate. … When we communicate and have her talk to us, it just helps get us organized,” Wagner said.

The Gophers out-rebounded the Lady Lions, but Banham said that’s still an aspect of the team’s game it can improve.

The Gophers racked up 26 assists in the game, and Banham said the team will be able to move the ball around in its up-tempo system.

“I think it’s a big thing that we trust each other. We don’t care who we’re going to throw it to, and I think everyone gets touches and everyone gets really good looks,” Banham said.

Though the season is still in its early stages, Stollings said the team has progressed well.

“I think everybody is in a good place. Everything is still new at the start of the season. Obviously, we got a win under our belt, with another opportunity to play at home. … We have a lot of room to grow and a lot of areas to improve upon,” Stollings said.

The Gophers’ depth was a strength in their last game. Ten players contributed in the scoring effort, and Wagner said that is a contributing factor to the team’s ability to win games.

“Each player on the team is very versatile and has many strengths. They can do multiple things,” Wagner said. “That really contributes to our success.”