Transfer hopes to halt Gophers’ inconsistent trend

Jim Schortemeyer

A trend is developing on the Minnesota women’s basketball team where a player will score in double digits in one game and find herself sitting near the water dispenser in the next.
And then there’s junior-college transfer Antoinetta Blevins.
She’s the latest Gopher to step up her game. Blevins had 18 points, eight assists and five rebounds Friday against Michigan, and 13 points the weekend before against Northwestern.
In keeping with recent history, Blevins might be ready for a drop-off. But coach Cheryl Littlejohn said Blevins is different from the others.
“I think the skills she has are going to help her,” Littlejohn said. “A lot of those who stepped up in the past didn’t have her skills. She’s a creator.”
And unlike those other players, this is Blevins’ first real chance to play, much less step up. Blevins has played in eight of Minnesota’s 12 conference games. Only two of those were as a starter.
Blevins said the problem wasn’t her ability, but rather her attitude. She was stuck in a junior-college frame of mind.
“My mind wasn’t here,” Blevins said. “In junior college, I just knew when it was game-time and didn’t have to practice.”
But if Littlejohn believes in anything, it’s hard work — something Blevins admittedly didn’t understand in the early season. So Blevins found herself at the end of the bench, behind players who might not have had her talent, but did boast a stronger work ethic.
“I think Coach was trying to tell me, `You’re in Division I ball now,'” Blevins said.
Littlejohn said she saw it differently.
“She taught herself a lesson,” she said. “That junior-college mentality doesn’t work here.”
Littlejohn knows all about Blevins’ junior-college days. While Littlejohn was the top assistant at Alabama, Blevins was attending nearby Wallace State Community College.
The two have known each other since Blevins was in ninth grade, so when Littlejohn switched schools, Blevins did too.
“The plan wasn’t for me to come here, but to Alabama,” Blevins said. “She called me up when she got the job in Minnesota and asked me to come with her.”
Littlejohn was successful getting Blevins to move to a land where it’s roughly 60 degrees colder in the winter, and now Minnesota has a new starting point guard.
Blevins is playing with a sense of urgency in her time with the Gophers. She’s admittedly a late starter and wants to make good on the year she has left to play.
“I’m at the point where I’m a junior and I’m determined to make my two years good,” Blevins said.
In the short time since she got off the bench, Blevins has helped shore up a problem-filled Minnesota lineup. She’s quick, she penetrates and has shown the ability to get an occasionally stagnant offense moving.
“She’s one of the many up-tempo players we need,” Littlejohn said. “We have those coming … it’s going to be an interesting year next year.”
Blevins’ quickness sets her apart. At 5-foot-7 and 130 pounds, Blevins earned the nickname “Tweet” for her resemblance to the cartoon character. With a frame like that, there’s not many players who can get started, cut and stop like Blevins.
“I haven’t seen any guards as quick as me,” Blevins said.
Her teammates know that when Blevins enters a game, she can bring a potent offensive weapon to the floor.
“She brings speed, she’s a scoring threat and she can score from the outside,” senior captain Sonja Robinson said.
All that’s left to see is if Blevins can make the transition from an occasional contributor to something the Gophers desperately need — a consistent scoring threat.