Women’s hoops competitive despite reconstruction

by Aaron Kirscht

One might suspect that a yellow-and-black “under construction” sign is hanging above the Gophers women’s basketball team’s locker room. There isn’t, but the team is still laboring to get everything in working order.
And while there’s plenty of time to turn things around, a 1-3 start doesn’t bode well for the Gophers’ remodeling plans.
Minnesota has been competitive in every game, including Sunday’s championship of the Dial Classic. James Madison, an NCAA tournament entrant last season, outlasted the Gophers, 64-56.
But the team has been dogged by untimely mistakes — turnovers rooted both in inexperience and slipshod fundamentals.
“Right now we’re not taking care of the ball and making mistakes at critical points in the game,” Coach Linda Hill-MacDonald said. “We’re working on teaching the players to respond better to pressure, to make the right decisions.”
How well the players respond to those lessons will be pivotal to the Gophers’ performance during the Big Ten season, which begins Dec. 28 at home against Iowa.
“I’m seeing improvement,” Hill-MacDonald said. “We’re getting some early experience, and that’s going to turn into some great learning opportunities down the road.”
Jam the Rams?
After a 1-2 homestand, the Gophers play tonight at Colorado State.
The Rams finished last season 26-5, won the Western Athletic Conference title and advanced to the second round of the NCAA tournament.
“They take quite a few 3-pointers, so we have to get out and defend that,” Hill-MacDonald said. “But we also have to be prepared to defend the drive because they’ve got great quickness from the wings. They’re a very challenging team.”
WAC Freshman of the Year Becky Hammon and forward Katie Cronin led the Rams, scoring 21 and 17 points per game, respectively. Most of those points have come from long distance.
The Gophers have been praised by other coaches in the young season for their interior defense. Will Minnesota be able to extend that defense out to the 3-point arc?
“If you don’t, you pay the penalty,” Hill-MacDonald said. “If they get a good look at the basket, it’s pretty automatic with those shooters. They’ll light it up.”
Got any spare organs?
An appendectomy used to require a surgery that would leave a three-inch scar and result in several weeks of pain.
Not anymore. Forward Lynda Hass was back on the court for Saturday’s win over Wyoming, a little more than a week after having her appendix removed. She has only a few small incisions to show for it.
“I feel like I still have it in me,” Hass said. “It’s all healed really well, and they caught it before it burst. I’m 100 percent.”
Hass was cleared to play before the game, and proved the doctors right, playing 24 minutes. She grabbed eight rebounds and scored nine points, including a pair of free throws that tied the game with 2:40 left to play. Hass also had five points and eight rebounds on Sunday against James Madison.
“I was ready for it, if that’s what the coach wanted, and she wanted it,” Hass said. “I didn’t expect to
play this big of a role, but I’ll take it.”
Hill-MacDonald quipped after Saturday’s game that some more surgery might be in order.
“I think we’re going to take out her gall bladder next,” she said.
Foul me, I dare ya …
James Madison coach Shelia Moorman said players like center Angie Iverson and Hass give the Gophers an intimidating inside game.
Several Dukes spent time on the bench in the second half because of foul trouble, including freshman forward Laura Gehrke, who fouled out after playing only 19 minutes.
“Last night, Wyoming’s post players were all in foul trouble, too,” Moorman said. “That’s certainly to the credit of Minnesota’s inside game. They don’t have tremendous height, but they’re beefy, they position well and they cause problems.”
Snag it, don’t drag it
Iverson has hit for double figures in scoring and rebounds three times in four games this season, including a 17-point, 17-rebound performance in the home opener against Iowa State Nov. 24.
Iverson had only five double-doubles all last season. She also leads the team in scoring with 13 points per game.
“I’m sure part of it is the fact that I’m in there quite a few more minutes than I was last year,” Iverson said. “But I don’t want to repeat what happened last year, so I just go out and work my tail off.”