Gophers using mix of experience and youth to replace star Kenisha Bell

Senior Jasmine Brunson has become the primary point guard, along with freshmen Jasmine Powell and Sara Scalia.

Guard Jasmine Powell brings the ball up the court at Williams Arena on Sunday, Nov. 10. The Gophers defeated Vermont 90-58.

Nur B. Adam

Guard Jasmine Powell brings the ball up the court at Williams Arena on Sunday, Nov. 10. The Gophers defeated Vermont 90-58.

Brendan O'Brien

One of the major questions coming into the 2019-20 season for the Minnesota women’s basketball team was how the team would fill the void left by former star Gophers guard Kenisha Bell.

In her three seasons as a starter at Minnesota, Bell was durable and a successful scorer, starting in at least 30 games each season while averaging 18.5 points per game over that stretch. On top of that, Bell provided the Gophers with a reliable point guard to control the pace and run the offense. 

But two games into the season, head coach Lindsay Whalen seems to have found the answer in three of the guards on the roster: Jasmine Brunson, Jasmine Powell and Sara Scalia.

Brunson is no stranger to Gophers women’s basketball, being one of four seniors on the roster this season. Brunson played in 93 games in her first three seasons and has started 42 of them. While she has not been the primary scoring option for Minnesota, Brunson has become the Gophers’ main floor general, starting in both games and successfully driving to the basket so far in this early season.

Powell and Scalia, on the other hand, are both fresh faces from Whalen’s recruiting. Powell has come off the bench in her first two games as a Gopher and provided an offensive spark with her ability to weave through traffic to get to the basket. She particularly impressed against Vermont in the second game of the season, leading the team to a 90-58 victory with a team-high 19 points and four assists. After the game Sunday, redshirt junior Gadiva Hubbard had high praise for the freshman.

“She did good. I’m so proud of her,” Hubbard said. “She was aggressive attacking, and literally it’s just the stuff she does in practice all the time, so I’m glad it’s carrying over in games. 

Scalia, a native of Stillwater, Minnesota, has also taken on a small share of point guard duties for Minnesota in games and practice. With players who drive to the basket like Brunson and Powell, Scalia complements those two with her three-point shooting. In a small sample size this season, she has made three of her six attempted shots from behind the arc. When asked if Scalia was ready for the college basketball stage, Whalen and Brunson had no doubt she would be.

“Nothing has seemed to affect her or bother her,” Whalen said. “She’s just kind of got that moxie. She’s played in state championship games last year against Hopkins. She played in a really high level in summer basketball in AAU … so she’s definitely not afraid of the bright lights.”

“I was definitely proud of her,” Brunson said of Scalia. “She’s one of the hardest workers on this team. You’ll always find her in a gym. I was really happy for her. She was fearless.”

The three guards and the rest of the Gophers will look to build off the win this past Sunday with two home games this week. Minnesota will host Milwaukee on Thursday at 12 p.m. and Arizona State on Sunday at 3 p.m.