MINNEAPOLIS (FOX 9) - She might be in her first season as a Division I college head coach, but Lindsay Whalen isn’t surprised by her team’s hot start.
The Gophers’ women’s basketball team is 9-0 and ranked No. 13 in this week’s Associated Press poll. They’re also No. 18 in the Coaches Poll. No. 13 is a number Whalen knows well.
"That’s been my number my whole life and it’s a good spot to be. We know that it’s a work in progress and everything, but the kids are playing well and playing hard," Whalen said.
The first-year coach knew she had a talented group after they finished last year 24-9, including an 11-5 mark in the Big Ten. The Gophers also beat UW-Green Bay in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament and lost just three seniors from that roster.
The two biggest wins for Minnesota so far this season are a come-from-behind 72-68 win over Syracuse in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, and a 77-69 win at Boston College on Sunday. The Gophers limited Syracuse to 44 percent shooting from the field, including just 22 percent from three-point range.
"To come back the way we did in the fourth and win [at Boston College], that’s another gutsy win. We’ll take and learn from those kind of games where it’s close and at the same time I’m really proud of this team," Whalen said. "They’re a fun group to be around and they play the right way, so that’s encouraging."
Destiny Pitts had a breakout game for the Gophers on Sunday, getting selected to the Big Ten Honor Roll after scoring 35 points on 9-of-13 shooting from the field, including 6-of-8 from three-point range. In that win, the Gophers limited Boston College to 38 percent shooting from the field and forced 17 turnovers. Minnesota scored 17 points off those turnovers.
"It felt really good to get that win, especially on the road because we know how tough it is to get those road wins, so that was good for our team," Pitts said.
Kenisha Bell leads three Gophers who average double figures in scoring on the season at 18.5 points per game. Pitts is averaging 13.4 points, and Annalise Lamke is scoring 10.2 points per game.
The Gophers have two non-conference games left before the Big Ten schedule begins. They host Coppin State Wednesday night and Rhode Island Saturday afternoon.
The Big Ten schedule starts Dec. 28 at Wisconsin. Whalen said it’s nice to be ranked in the top 25 this early and it’s a sign of progress, but it doesn’t mean much right now.
“The only ranking that matters is the one that comes out at the end of the season,” Whalen said last week.