Minnesota keeps winning behind Lindsay Whalen’s defensive mindset


Five games into Lindsay Whalen’s tenure as the Minnesota Golden Gophers head coach and everything has changed.

MINNEAPOLIS—A team for years known for their offense under former coach Marlene Stollings has transformed into a defensive-minded team under Lindsay Whalen. That defense showed up again on Thursday, as the No. 20 ranked Golden Gophers took down No. 12 Syracuse, 72-68, in a roller coaster game at the University of Minnesota. The win marked Whalen’s first marquee win as a head coach and kept the Gophers undefeated streak of six games intact.

“I thought our pressure and our commitment to the game plan for forty minutes was really outstanding,” Whalen said after the game. “That’s why we won.”

While the sample size is small early into a new season, the numbers Minnesota has put up on the defensive end are quite impressive, to say the least.

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According to Her Hoop Stats, Minnesota finished the 2017-18 season ranked 332nd out of 349 teams in the number of points the team gave up on average per game at 74.8. While Carlie Wagner and co. were able to push the offensive pace and advance to the second round of the NCAA Tournament, this year’s team isn’t built to do that. Whalen knew she would have to get her team to commit to the defense and the Gophers haven’t let her down. Coming into the game against the Orange, the Gophers were allowing just 47.0 points per game to their opponents, the second-best mark in the nation.

“These guys have bought into every game plan we have had,” Whalen said. “This win (vs. Syracuse) was against a great opponent and we needed that.”

Another huge contributing factor to the Gophers’ early season success is the number of rebounds the team is allowing opponents to pull in. Last season, the Gophers allowed 26.7 defensive rebounds a game (256th in the nation) to opponents. That number is down to 21.2 this season thanks in large part to huge rebounding games by Taiye Bello, Kenisha Bell and Annalese Lamke. Bello had 18 total rebounds in her double-double vs. Syracuse, including 10 offensive rebounds.

“She’s the best we have seen this year,” Syracuse head coach Quentin Hillsman said when asked where Bello ranked compared to other forwards his team had faced this season.

Whalen and her coaching staff will hope to continue this new defensive trend as the schedule continues to provide challenges. Luckily for the Gophers, four of the last five non-conference games are at Williams Arena before conference play begins. The next game against a currently ranked team is on Jan. 14 vs. Iowa.