Women’s basketball: Gophers eager for a shot at another Top 10 team
The Gophers have lost two in a row and six of seven overall.
ST. PAUL -- Lindsay Whalen and her University of Minnesota women’s basketball team are getting a taste of what season might be like with some more size in the middle since Sophie Hart joined the program after transferring from North Carolina State after winter break.
Hart, a 6-foot-5 center who was ESPN’s fifth-ranked center prospect out of Farmington High School, can’t play with the Gophers until next fall but has been practicing with the team, and on Tuesday, Whalen said she and teammate Rose Micheaux had some battles during practice.
“That was one of the best parts of practice today, watching them go at it,” Whalen told reporters after practice, “and I thought it was a great day. They both got a lot better.”
It’s fun to think of what a better Micheaux would look like. The 6-2 sophomore forward already has improved by leaps and bounds this season — maybe more than any player in the Big Ten.
Micheaux enters Wednesday night’s 7 p.m. tip against No. 4 Indiana at Williams Arena averaging 16.4 points and 9.2 rebounds a game, and her 3.3 offensive boards per game this season lead the Big Ten.
Rose was very good today in practice, and she continues to grow and expand her game,” Whalen said.
Practice is big for the Gophers (9-12 overall, 2-8 Big Ten), a young team with promising talent gutting out a Big Ten schedule against the deepest conference field in memory. The Hoosiers (20-1, 10-1) lead the conference by a game over second-place and sixth-ranked Iowa — two of four conference teams ranked in the Associated Top 25.
Maryland is ranked No. 8 and Ohio State 10th after three straight losses dropped them from the No. 2 spot, and the ranks of the undefeated. Michigan, which wallopped the Gophers, 77-41, last Sunday, is ranked 18th.
“They’re a tough group.” Whalen said. “We’re going through the Big Ten season, and a lot of us for the first time, and we’re ready for every challenge.”
The Gophers have lost two in a row and six of seven overall, but they outplayed Ohio State for three quarters in a 83-71 loss on Jan. 5 and are eager for another chance at a Top 10 team.
“It’s going to be such a fun game tomorrow night,” said freshman forward Mallory Heyer. “We have nothing to lose, so that’s also fun. We’re the underdogs and … we’re just going to give it all we’ve got.”
Heyer, a 6-foot wing from Chaska, is another player improving from game to game. Heading into Wednesday night, she is averaging 13.3 points and 8.5 rebounds over her past six games, and her four double-doubles are two shy of the program record by a freshman set by Destiny Pitts in 2017-18.
The Hoosiers will be among the best teams the Gophers have played this season, if not the best. They already have seven victories over ranked opponents, including conference wins against Maryland, Ohio State, Michigan and Illinois, which was ranked for two losses to the Hoosiers. Their only loss was to Michigan State, 83-78, on Dec. 29.
Six-foot-3 forward Mackenzie Holmes leads four players scoring in double figures with a 22-point average and adds eight rebounds a game. She was unavailable after surgery to repair her left knee the last time the teams played, an 80-70 Hoosiers win last Feb. 3 in Bloomington.
Sara Scalia scored a game-high 26 points for Minnesota in that game; now she’s a member of Indiana’s team averaging 9.0 points and 3.4 rebounds. She scored a season-high 19 in a victory at Michigan on Jan. 23.
The Gophers, meanwhile, have their noses to the grindstone.
“There are a lot of times where we’re working together in spurts, in our games, where we’re working together — and then we’re not working together as a team,” Micheaux said. “We know that. We talk about it in practice and break it down. … I feel like that’s turning into a really big positive for us, and it will carry over from what we’ve been practicing.”
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