The Gophers women’s basketball program welcomed a new era Friday night. It was offensive.
No! Not that way. That’s past history.
This is the beginning of new coach Marlene Stollings’ tenure of run and gun. She unleashed a frantic offensive attack in her Williams Arena debut, to the delight of the players and fans. It resulted in an energetic 109-60 victory over Southeastern Louisiana, and marked the first time the Gophers had eclipsed 100 points since 2002.
“Our theme is to ignite Williams,” Stollings said. “I was very pleased with our opening-night performance.”
There were plenty of other firsts to go along with a milestone. Stollings earned her first victory, while freshman guard Carlie Wagner, the in-state prep phenom, and senior forward Shae Kelley, an Old Dominion transfer, made their debuts with the starting five.
The milestone, well, that went to reliable senior guard Rachel Banham. She became the fourth Gopher to reach 2,000 career points. Lindsay Whalen is the school’s all-time leading scorer with 2,285 points.
Banham reached the milestone midway through the first half with a hard-driving layup that she was fouled on. She completed the old-fashioned three-point play.
“The biggest difference is the tempo,” said Banham, who finished with 18 points (2,011 for her career). “We do everything at a fast pace. It’s fun to push it up and score quickly.”
The vastly more athletic Gophers squad didn’t waste any time showing off its versatility and offensive prowess. The team scored 11 points in the first 2 minutes, 41 seconds, and all five starters had a basket. They built a 57-38 halftime lead.
The quick pace took its toll near the end of the first half. The Gophers weren’t able to fill the lanes on fast-break opportunities — which they were excelling at from the outset — and points didn’t come as rapidly.
They got a much-needed break at the intermission, and their conditioning showed in the second half. They scored 52 second-half points, led by a more assertive Kelley. She finished with 21 points — 15 after halftime.
For a squad that was trying to play at a breakneck speed, it was also effective in halfcourt sets. It didn’t matter if it was off a pick-and-roll or taking advantage of its height inside.
“They weren’t able to guard us,” Stollings said. “We exploited their weaknesses.”
She quietly let the offense run efficiently. Once the ball went to the defensive end, it was a much different story. She was more vocal and animated, and periodically would stomp her feet.
“We had some coverages we missed,” Stollings said. “We were trying to get our kids to pick up some things on the fly.”
In a surprise move, last year’s second-leading scorer, sophomore center Amanda Zahui B., was not in the starting lineup. Zahui B. is in the process of transforming her body much like Maurice Walker did with the men’s program to fit Stollings’ up-and-down style and has been slowed by an injury. That didn’t seem to faze Zahui B., who had a double-double (20 points and 12 rebounds).
The coaching change seems to have had the biggest effect on junior forward Kayla Hirt, who started in place of Zahui B. She had 21 points and seven rebounds.
“A lot of my points came in transition,” Hirt said. “We were able to push the ball, and get easy baskets.”