Whalen: Gophers need 'sense of urgency'

- It’s a little early to say the honeymoon period is over for Lindsay Whalen and the University of Minnesota women’s basketball team.

That said, it’s not exactly rainbows and unicorns for the Gopher women in Dinkytown right now. The Gophers are quickly finding out that life in the Big Ten isn’t easy, and life on the road can be lonely. Whalen’s Gophers lost at No. 23 Michigan State 86-68 Wednesday night in a game they never got the lead from the opening tip.

Minnesota started the season 12-0 in the non-conference. It’s 1-3 in the Big Ten since. And it doesn’t get any easier with No. 17 Iowa coming to Williams Arena next Monday.

“For me it’s Big Ten play. The things that we were able to get away with against some non-conference teams, at times our talent was just able to carry us,” Whalen said Tuesday. Now, teams scout and they’re really trying to take us away.”

The skid started with an ugly 76-60 loss at Michigan on New Year’s Eve. The Gophers shot 42 percent from the field, including just 25 percent from three-point range, and never recovered from being out-scored 25-9 in the second quarter. It was also the first true road game for three of Minnesota’s starters.

Sunday, the Gophers hosted Illinois and had a 35-21 lead at the half. They led by 17 at one point in the third quarter before Illinois out-scored the Gophers 23-9 in the fourth quarter to stun Minnesota, 66-62.

“We said you want to have a special season, you’ve got to win your home games. We’ve dropped one home game. It’s early and we still have room to grow, but the sense of urgency needs to kick in like, yesterday. It needs to come now,” Whalen said.

It didn’t get any better at Michigan State Wednesday night. The Spartans used a 24-13 second quarter to pull away from the Gophers, who never really threatened in an 86-68 loss at the Breslin Center. Minnesota shot 45 percent from the field, but went just 1-of-11 from three-point range. They also committed 19 turnovers.

The Gophers are struggling from the perimeter of late, shooting just 30 percent for the season. Destiny Pitts was one of Minnesota’s sharp shooters last season, but was struggling at just 14 percent before Michigan State.

Pitts finished just 1-of-8 from the perimeter against the Spartans. With Carlie Wagner and Jessie Edwards graduated, Pitts has become a priority on opponents’ scouting reports.

“She’s No. 2 on every scouting report and she’s a sophomore. They’re running her off the line and making her shots tough,” Whalen said. “When you don’t see it go down a ton and you do get some open looks, it’s harder. It’s not going to be as easy as it was last year.”

The focus needs to return to playing with a sense of urgency and competing. That shouldn’t be difficult with another ranked team coming to Williams Arena Monday night.

You’ll take your lumps in Big Ten play. There was no expectation for the Gophers to take their 12-0 non-conference slate and go undefeated. But Whalen said the team needs to understand that with getting ranked as high as No. 13 nationally this season, they have to understand they’re going to get every team’s best shot.

They need to give everything they have and be exhausted after every game. Do that, Whalen says, and you can sleep well at night knowing the result will take care of itself.

“Never take anything for granted, I think we got comfortable. We were 12-0 and it’s human nature. What was good enough then, it’s just not good enough now,” Whalen said. “Everybody just needs to take their level a little higher, me included.”

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