Minnesota endures rocky adjustment to Big Ten play

The Big Ten conference season has been a wake-up call for the team, after a relatively easy non-conference season.

Redshirt senior Kenisha Bell chases after the ball on Monday, Jan. 14 at Williams Arena. The Gophers lost to the Hawkeyes 81-63.

Elle Moulin

Redshirt senior Kenisha Bell chases after the ball on Monday, Jan. 14 at Williams Arena. The Gophers lost to the Hawkeyes 81-63.

by Babatunde Jinadu

At one point, the Gophers women’s basketball team was ranked as the No. 14 team in the country then the Big Ten conference play began, and the team lost seven of nine games. 

The team struggled early to adjust to the heightened level of competition in the Big Ten.

“It was like night and day. With talent, we were able to win a lot of games covering up mistakes,” said head coach Lindsay Whalen. “Then, early in the Big Ten, we really got exposed.”

Minnesota started off the year undefeated through 12 games. That streak was good enough to tie for the third-longest winning streak in program history.

In the end, after a 12-0 start, the team has a 19-8 record overall, and a 8-8 conference season record.

“The start was not really how we wanted to start Big Ten, but I think we all just stuck together,” said junior Destiny Pitts. “As a team, I think we struggled at first, but then we kind of found our own rhythm and got it together.”

As of Feb. 24, the 11 teams that Minnesota played during its non-conference season have a combined record of 93 wins and 183 losses. Only three of the 11 teams have won more than 10 games, and two of the 11 teams have won a total of five games combined. 

The lone challenge for the Gophers during the non-conference stretch came when the team took on the No. 12 Syracuse in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. 

“It was a big adjustment, I felt like the game against Syracuse was as much competition as we would face in the Big Ten,” said senior Kenisha Bell.

Bell said that midway through the season, Whalen had individual meetings with players to talk about their goals and what they were learning from the adversity.

“[Whalen] sees what we can do and I think that our focus wasn’t quite there, the things that we usually do we [weren’t] doing,” Bell said. “I think that we just had to adjust to playing in the Big Ten and playing people that [are] as competitive as us, and as good as us.”

Amid the ups and downs of the season, one constant for the Gophers has been fan support. Through 17 home games the Gophers have averaged 5,622 fans per game this season, according to a Gopher Sports spokesperson. Through the team’s last home game, the Gophers were No. 12 in average attendance in the country.

The team found a surge after a slow conference start. After a 2-7 start in Big Ten play, the Gophers rattled off six consecutive victories until ranked Maryland slowed them down last week.

“We know what it was like to be 2-7, so every game is huge for us,” Whalen said. “We don’t have any room to relax … we’ve worked really hard to get here, and now we’re just back to even, so now we have to keep going.”