Minnesota starts season with win over Harvard

Four players made their Gophers debut in Saturday’s 103-87 victory at Williams Arena.

Gophers forward Taiye Bello handles the ball at Williams Arena on Nov. 12, 2016. The Gophers beat Harvard University 103-87 in their season opener.

Maddy Fox

Gophers forward Taiye Bello handles the ball at Williams Arena on Nov. 12, 2016. The Gophers beat Harvard University 103-87 in their season opener.

Dominic Davis

Taiye Bello turned an already-big event into an even bigger one on Saturday.

The freshman recorded a double-double— the team’s first since Jan. 23 — in her Gophers debut as they beat Harvard 103-87 in their season opener.

Bello scored 10 points and grabbed 12 rebounds off the bench.

“I was really excited,” Bello said. “At first, I was kind of nervous because I’m a freshman, but I got out there and just did what I do best: rebounds.”

Two other freshmen also asserted themselves quickly. Guards Jasmine Brunson and Gadiva Hubbard played a big role in the victory.

Brunson scored 15 points in the game for Minnesota, shooting five for nine from the field.

Hubbard added 16 points and eight assists. She was also a threat defensively and tallied five steals.

Junior guard Carlie Wagner led all scorers with 27 points in Minnesota’s win. She said she liked what she saw from her freshman teammates.

“I thought they made a great debut and really showed the crowd … the style of play that they’re going to bring to our team,” Wagner said. “I thought they did great, and I don’t think they could’ve had a better first game.”

Minnesota (1-0) played quickly on offense, scoring 17 points on the fast break.

There were eight lead changes in the first quarter before Minnesota started to pull away.

Harvard (0-1) went on a couple runs in the game, including a 12-point run in the second quarter to tie the game at 40.

The Gophers called a timeout when Harvard tied the game.

“We talked about putting more pressure on the ball in your area, whether you’re in the zone or man-to-man, and we need to rebound the ball,” said head coach Marlene Stollings. “I thought those two things really ignited our transition.”

Harvard shot the ball well from three-point range and made 16 of 30.

“We thought they were getting a lot of looks when we were there, but we were not necessarily putting enough pressure on the person that had the ball,” Stollings said. “We were almost daring them to shoot.”

The Gophers, however, had a huge advantage on the free-throw line. Minnesota’s relentless driving to the basket earned them 27 free throws compared to Harvard’s three attempts at the line. Stollings said she wants her team to attempt 20 or more free throws every game.

Free throws weren’t the only deciding factor. Minnesota capitalized on Harvard’s 22 turnovers as well.

Minnesota’s defense stole the ball 14 times, including Hubbard’s five.

While Minnesota didn’t shoot from the 3-point line as well as Harvard, Stollings wasn’t concerned.

“We’re not going to pass up open shots,” Stollings said. “We emphasized rebounding and getting that second and third shot off of it.”