Roysland is breath of fresh air off the bench

Dan Miller

Kelly Roysland walked into the Espresso Expose coffee shop Tuesday night exhausted.

She had already been through a photo shoot and a television interview, followed by two hours of basketball practice, an hour of lifting weights and a required two-hour study group session.

It was a good time to talk about aggression.

The first player off the bench for Minnesota’s women’s basketball team, Roysland has found her niche on the team by being aggressive.

“What I do best is attacking the basket,” Roysland said. “And that’s what the coaches have wanted me to do – be aggressive and attack the basket.”

On the road against Purdue on Jan. 18, Roysland was called to play for 24 minutes as the Gophers struggled with foul trouble.

In the hostile environment with more than 11,000 fans screaming her way, Roysland’s fearless attitude made her look more comfortable and productive than many of her teammates.

Roysland, a freshman, is sixth on the team in minutes played this year and has used her penetrating ability to contribute to the Gophers offense, which ranks first in the nation in shooting percentage (50.6 percent).

“It’s exciting,” Roysland said of the penetrating offensive style. “Not only for you as a player but for the crowd.”

The entertainment factor is not the only reason Roysland likes the penetrating style of basketball.

“Good things happen when you are aggressive and take the ball to the basket, whether that be making a shot, dishing to someone or going to the free-throw line for two shots,” Roysland said.

However, good things have been happening for the Gophers because of this kind of play long before Roysland ever stepped on campus.

Senior Lindsay Whalen has made a career out of penetrating throw defenses. And she has thrown a few tips Roysland’s way.

“She’s athletic and does a lot of things to help this team,” Whalen said.

Roysland said she went through times early in the season when her confidence was down, and she wondered if she would find her place with her new teammates.

“You get to the point where you ask, ‘Am I good enough to play at this level?’ ” she said.

Now that she has found her place, Roysland contributes her ever-increasing confidence directly to playing with Whalen and the rest of the talented Gophers players.

“They’re fun to play with,” Roysland said. “Like with Whalen you never know when you’re going to get a no-look or behind-the-back (pass).”

The hardest adjustment for Roysland has been learning to play better defense.

“In high school you just pretty much hold your player’s hand,” Roysland said. “Now it is so much more team defense.”

Roysland’s defense was put to the test in the Gophers’ back-to-back losses to Purdue and Penn State last month. She was brought off the bench to help defensive specialist Shannon Bolden guard two All-Americans: Shereka Wright and all-time Big Ten career scoring leader Kelly Mazzante.

Roysland fouled out of the Penn State game, being called for five hand check fouls on Mazzante, who scored 29 points in the game.

One might think Roysland would be losing sleep this week as the Gophers prepare to host the Lions Sunday at Williams Arena. But that’s not so.

“I am looking forward to defending (Mazzante) again,” Roysland said without a flinch. “I just need to be a smarter defender this time.”

Coach Pam Borton likes that tenacity.

“She’s a very aggressive player and brings us valuable minutes,” Borton said.

Consistency on both defense and offense has been the biggest question so far about Roysland’s game. And it has been the question for the entire Gophers team as they still look for a consistent third scorer.

But Sunday against Penn State, Roysland’s mentality will be the same as it’s been all season.

“I’ll tell myself, ‘Let’s just do what you do best,’ ” she said.

And then the expected 14,000 fans at The Barn will see her streak to the basket and put up a running jump shot in the middle of the lane.