Free: 22 Observations of the Minnesota Gophers WBB Going into 2022 (Part 2)

The 21-22 season opened for the Gopher Women’s basketball team with high expectations and a roster full of high-level players ready to make their mark. Entering the holiday break, the team is sporting a 7-7 record, including a 0-2 record in the Big Ten. After a jam-packed first couple of months that include impressive wins, entertaining close-loses and elevating players, I continue to give my 22 impressions of the team, including 11 positives to date and 11 areas of opportunity for the team to hit the ground running in 2022. 

11 Areas of Opportunity: 

– Defense for 40 minutes/Full Game

When discussing the close losses and possibility of breaking through, the Gophers will need to cut out the lapses that seem to bite them in games. They go two- or three-minute stretches of struggling to score or loose defense and the opponent gets going from behind the arc or get out on the fast break and before you know it, the deficit is double figures. Continuing to work on minimizing those lapses and knowing how to stop runs could help the team turns those hard-fought losses into impressive and season-building wins. 

– Limit unforced turnovers

One of the main keys in working on stopping opponent’s runs would be to limit their turnovers, especially live ball turnovers. If they are not allowing teams to get out on the fast break and score before they can get set, it will allow them to lock in on defense and on offense, will give them more opportunities to use their numerous weapons to put points up. 

Another aspect of turnovers they could use less frequency of would be moving picks or travels. Often at times they attack off the bounce but get into trouble with defenders getting set in front of them to grab a charge from them or surrounding the ball handler and forcing them into forced poor shots, bad passes, or travels.  

– Sissoko staying engaged and staying on the court 

One of the most athletic and versatile players for the Gophers is RS Junior Kadi Sissoko. In games like the impressive wins over Syracuse and Arizona State, Sissoko was one of the prime reasons for the victory. She has elite-level speed and can make swift decisive drives to the basket before the defense can even realize what happened. However, one aspect that has caught the team a few too many times is foul trouble for Kadi. In tight games, the team has had to manage long stretches without arguably their most impactful player on the floor. Keeping her involved in the game and on the court could be a huge step in securing wins. 

– Help side defense 

In looking at the team’s overall defense on the season, they are holding opponents to an average of 68.3 points a game which is nothing to cause concern. However, looking at an area that at times does leave some to be desired would be their help-side defense. As mentioned, they are pretty strong at pressuring perimeter shooters but with pressure, it leaves a weakness on the backside by the basket. A few too many times, teams have been able to backdoor cut the Gophers for open layups. If the Gophers can improve on helping slide over to cut off the line to the basket and either draw charges or force opponents to shoot contested shots could make it that much more difficult for opponents to score on them. 

– Finishing end of games 

Being able to close out games is something that separates great teams from the okay teams. Being able to execute in a tight game or lock in and get a needed stop is something all teams must prove to both fans and at times themselves that they can accomplish. Despite having late leads in games, the Gophers have at times struggled to finish some of their close games lately such as against UNC, Nebraska, or Michigan. However, their wins against Syracuse and Arizona State should give them confidence that in crunch time, they have all the skills and knowledge to finish out an intense game hanging in the balance.

– Foul trouble 

Another little bug that has snuck up on team is untimely foul trouble, especially among the main rotation players. Players such as SissokoMicheauxWinters and Powell have all had games where they got into early foul trouble or picked up late fouls that kill momentum the team has going in a game. Working to cut out silly fouls or overly aggressive fouls can help keep the players who should be on the court involved in the game. 

– Scoring production in backup post minutes 

With Alanna “Rose” Micheaux taking over and making the starting center role hers, it has shown a yin and yang situation for the Gophers. On one hand you have a strong, physical post presence who gives much-needed production inside the paint for the team. However, on the other hand, it highlights the need and lack of backup post production, scoring wise, once Rose goes to the bench. Getting scoring from the likes of Kayla Mershon, Klarke Sconiers, or Bailey Helgren has to be one of the main needs going into 2022 for this group. 

– Finding a way to get four or five players going in one game 

Despite having some outstanding individual performances this season, it feels that the team is still waiting to have a game where everyone is clicking or getting hot during the same game. In the UNC game, Deja Winters, Gadiva Hubbard, and Rose Micheaux all were clicking in this game but Scalia and Powell struggled with their shot. In the loss to the Nebraska, Scalia and Sissoko were on fire, both scoring over 20+ points each, however Powell missed it due to injury and no one else scored more than 8 points. 

The closest the team has been to a complete game maybe was the 99-93 victory over Ohio where four players were in double figures. However, if this team has a game where Scalia, Sissoko, Winters, Hubbard, Micheaux and Powell are all clicking, there is not a team in the conference they don’t have the firepower to defeat. 

– Finishing plays with the rebound

One of the things that could help the team’s defense take a step forward into the new year would be finishing a defensive stop by securing the defensive board. On the season the team has given up 167 total offensive rebounds for an average of 11-12 offensive boards a game. Focusing on knowing the defensive possession is not complete till the rebound is secure is something that could be highly beneficial in the second half of the season. 

-Looking for great shot over good shot

This one is somewhat difficult to put into a stats-correlation type of comparison and maybe more so eye-test type of observation. On the season the team is shooting over 40% from the field and over 35% from 3-point range and those are not bad by any stretch of the imagination. However, I can see some of the frustration with the shot selection or what part of the game certain shots happen. A few too many times a DEEP 3-pointer is taken mere seconds into the shot-clock and sometimes before anyone can get down the court or in rebounding position. That puts an all or nothing feel to those shots and too often they haven’t found the bottom of the net. Another correctable area in terms of shot-selection is utilizing the drive and kick option more frequently. As noted, this group has a good amount of shooters who can drill the 3-ball as well as strong guards who can create off the bounce and put pressure on defenders inside the paint. With the combo, taking forced shots over 2-3 defenders inside the paint or forcing up deep, contested perimeter shots should mostly be reserved for end of clock situations. Keeping the ball moving and looking for the open shooter will likely have positive results for the team moving forward.

-Getting to and finishing at the free-throw line consistently

Taking a quick look at the overall season free-throw line stats, it would appear this is kind of a non-issue for the team. They average 11.1 attempts a game and their opponents are averaging 11.4 a game. Nothing to push the fire alarm over however as someone who has been in the stands or watched the games on TV, it appears that the free-throw differential seems to be more an issue in the losses for the team. As mentioned, games such as North Carolina, Nebraska, Michigan, or Drake show that the team is at a notable disadvantage in free-throw shooting. In both the Husker and Wolverine losses, they got zero free-throws in the fourth quarter. That could mean being less aggressive and settling for jump shots in crunch time instead of looking to attack and create contact. In UNC game, the different was 14 free-throw attempts to 6 for the Gophers in the fourth quarter.

If the Gophers behind powerful and forceful attackers like Powell, Sissoko, Hubbard and Scalia, look to continue to attack throughout the game and not shy away from contact, especially late in the game could help seal victories. It’s a double positive in both you are getting a chance a free, uncontested points at the line but also you are getting fouls racked up on opponents and hopefully getting great players off the court and to the bench where they are unable to score or produce from in the game.

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Written by Eric Boogaard

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