Wagner ahead of her year

Freshman guard Carlie Wagner has upped up her game in Big Ten play.

Matt Greenstein

Nearly all of the 3,879 fans at Williams Arena for the Gophers season opener erupted as 5-foot-10-inch guard Carlie Wagner left her seat for the starting lineups.

She was the first name introduced in the game against Southeastern Louisiana on Nov. 14, kicking off her first year of collegiate basketball.

“It’s a comfortable feeling being in the starting lineup. I just worked really hard for it,” Wagner said in November.

Wagner finished her first game with only six points and four assists and went on to average just more than nine points per contest in nonconference games.

But since Big Ten games began, Wagner has not regressed as some freshmen do once conference play starts. Instead, her numbers have improved.

Wagner, who is third on the Gophers in conference scoring, averages nearly six more points per game than during the nonconference slate.

Star senior guard Rachel Banham’s numbers also improved when conference play started during her freshman season three years ago.

“[Wagner] can do a lot of things that Rachel is doing. She has such a great work ethic, and I don’t think we talk about that enough. She’s always the first one in the gym and the last one to leave,” head coach Marlene Stollings said.

In high school, Wagner had a nose for the basket. She averaged more than 37 points during her senior year.

And even when she wasn’t in a Minnesota uniform, Wagner made an impression on her future teammates.

“She has matured a lot. I saw Carlie play one game when she was in high school, and she had like 50 points. I [thought], ‘I don’t know if she’s going to be able to be that good in college,’” redshirt sophomore center Amanda Zahui B. said last month. “Then I saw her in workouts and in games, obviously, and she’s just been killing it.”

At the beginning of the season, Wagner said she felt lost. But since then, the game has slowed down for her.

Wagner earned the Big Ten Freshman of the Week title for the second consecutive week on Monday.

“It’s an honor for me. I’ve been working really hard and just trying to play my best,” Wagner said.

During the two-week span, Wagner has looked like anything but a freshman on the court.

The Gophers played three games during the stretch, and Wagner averaged nearly 20 points and four rebounds per contest.

Wagner’s goal is to grab six rebounds per game, and although she didn’t meet that benchmark during the stretch, the freshman still helped Minnesota secure three victories in as many games.

And even though she’s young, Wagner has already shown confidence in taking the big shot with the game on the line.

Late in the second half of the Gophers’ 65-61 victory over Indiana in January, Wagner made a clutch basket, giving Minnesota the 62-61 lead — and the win.

Fans cheered even louder than when she was first introduced.

“We believe in her so strongly. We’re calling those plays for her down the stretch without hesitation,” Stollings said. “We know she’s a big-moment type player. For her to be able to step up as a freshman and nail those shots is tremendous.”