Wagner sparks Minnesota Sunday in winning effort

Center Amanda Zahui B. set a new program record in blocks Sunday.

Minnesota forward Shae Kelley drives past Michigan State defenders during the second half at Williams Arena on 

Minnesota forward Shae Kelley drives past Michigan State defenders during the second half at Williams Arena on Sunday.

Matt Greenstein

Throughout their 18-6 start to the season, the Gophers have struggled to produce early in games, regardless of their fast pace.

Sunday’s 86-79 victory against Michigan State was no different.

The Gophers started the contest down by as many as 10 points, but found a way to come back.

The victory was a welcome sight for head coach Marlene Stollings and the Gophers after getting blown out in their previous two games.

“I thought it was a very strong performance from our kids from the standpoint of coming off a couple losses here and having to handle that adversity,” Stollings said.

Freshman guard Carlie Wagner led Minnesota’s comeback.

She finished the first half with only four points, but her offensive outburst in the second half gave Minnesota momentum to carry out the victory.

“The basket felt big today. I was shooting confidently, and my teammates were giving me the ability to get open,” Wagner said.

Wagner finished the game with a team-high 25 points — only the Spartans’ Aerial Powers, who tallied 31 points finished with more.

When Wagner wasn’t shooting from deep — the freshman finished the game with a career-high five 3-pointers —she looked to distribute, recording three assists.

Senior forward Shae Kelley was one of Wagner’s targets for transition baskets.

Kelley finished the game with 16 points and said her mentality was the driving force of her offensive performance.

“I was just more aggressive, more aggressive on the boards. Offensively, [we’ve] been talking a lot about that, and that’s what I went out and tried to do tonight,” Kelley said.

Earlier this season, Stollings said Wagner had adjusted well to Big Ten play, and Sunday’s victory displayed her newfound playing style.

Heading into the contest, the Gophers had dropped four of their last five games, but Stollings said it was important the team controlled what they could.

“We focused a lot on what we wanted to do and not so much on the losing. The losing, what we focused on was, ‘Why did we lose?’” Stollings said.

Amanda Zahui B. fouled out of the game, but she shattered a program record in the process. The redshirt sophomore center tallied five blocks, reaching 199 for her career. Janel McCarville previously held the record.

Despite Zahui B.’s performance, Minnesota is focusing on putting another mark in the record books: its first NCAA tournament appearance since 2009.

“We’re sitting at 17 wins, and we have big goals and aspirations, [one of which] is to go to the NCAA tournament, and we’re very focused on that,” Stollings said.