Lindsay Whalen: Gophers' only way up is through hard work

·3 min read

Jan. 29—The difference between winning and losing, Lindsay Whalen said Friday, is thin, and more often than not this new year, her Gophers women's basketball team has itself on the wrong side.

The Gophers are 2-5 since the calendar turned and enter Sunday's 2 p.m. tip against Wisconsin at Williams Arena on a four-game losing streak. Halfway through her fourth Big Ten season as the Gophers' coach, Whalen sees only one way for her team to get out of its funk.

"The only way you can change the way things are is you have to keep working," she said. "We have to keep staying together and just work through this. There's plenty of time to change the momentum. If you want to change your situation, you've got to work harder. That's the only thing I know how to do. It's the only thing any of us know how to do."

The former Gophers all-American and four-time WNBA champion with the Lynx planned on her fourth team being better at this point than its 9-12 overall record, and 2-7 in the Big Ten. At the season's onset, she was clear about her desire to return the Gophers to the NCAA tournament for the first time since Maureen Stollings' final season as head coach in 2017-18.

That seems unlikely the way things are going this month, but the season is far from over, Whalen said. With eight regular-season games remaining, there is time to build some momentum ahead of the Big Ten tournament March 2-6 in Indianapolis.

"There's a lot of games left to be played, there's a lot of time, a lot of possessions," she said Friday.

Finding reasons for the Gophers' skid is easy: bad starts, poor shooting, turnovers, slow transition defense, not enough scoring in the paint. It was all on display in an 80-66 loss at Purdue on Thursday. The Gophers trailed 18-9 after one quarter, shot 35 percent from the field, were outscored 17-2 on fast breaks and turned the ball over on their first possession of each half. In all, Purdue turned 15 Gophers turnovers into 20 points.

Now, Whalen said, the Gophers have to decide what they're going to do about it.

"There's always a next opportunity, a new chance for a team or an individual to make an impact," she said. "So, when you're in sports, that's what you have to do. Nobody likes to lose. It sucks to lose. But you've got to get ready for the next day. You've got to get up and keep working."

The Gophers beat Wisconsin, 82-66, on Jan 12 to improve to 18-2 in the rivals' past 20 meetings. Junior guard Sidney Hilliard, the Badgers' second-leading scorer this season (12.8 ppg.) and leading rebounder (4.7) was limited by injury in that game, scoreless in just nine minutes.

Since that loss, the Badgers are 2-2 with victories at Rutgers and against Penn State. "They're obviously playing with more confidence," Whalen said.

Minnesota is 0-4 since that game, but Whalen said there have been positives.

"Yes, I'm judged on wins and losses. That's the deal I signed up for. We all are in sports," she said. "But it's a long season, they're long games. You've got to find ways to still find positives and work on the things you can improve on. Find the positives and learn from it.

"A win would be great but we can't just snap our fingers. We want to get a win because we want to win. So, there's a lot to still accomplish in each day."