Gophers on shooting struggles: 'Keep shooting'

Life has gotten difficult for Lindsay Whalen and the Gophers women’s basketball team in the Big Ten.

It wasn’t that long ago that Minnesota beat Wisconsin in its league opener, improving to 12-0 on the season. The Gophers were threatening the top 10 in the national polls. Since, they went on a four-game losing streak and have dropped five of their past six.

The skid ended with a dominating 78-50 win at Wisconsin. The Gophers are 2-5 in Big Ten play, with both wins coming against the Badgers.

“It made the drive home a lot better on 94,” Whalen said.

But the conference season has been a grind for Whalen and the Gophers. It doesn’t get much easier with Purdue at Williams Arena Thursday night. The Boilermakers are third in the Big Ten at 5-2, yet aren’t ranked in the top 25. The Gophers fell out of the rankings this week and are in the “others receiving votes” category.

So what has been the issue for the Gophers? Simply put, the shots aren’t falling.

In their first Big Ten loss at Michigan, the Gophers shot 42.6 percent from the field and just 1-of-4 from three-point range. In the following home loss over Illinois, Minnesota was out-scored 23-9 in the fourth quarter in a 66-62 loss. The Gophers shot 41 percent from the field.

In an 86-68 loss at Michigan State, the Gophers were 45.5 percent from the field and just 1-of-11 from the perimeter. The Gophers fell 81-63 to the nation’s leading scorer in Megan Gustafson and the Iowa Hawkeyes on Jan. 14. In that game, Minnesota was 37 percent from the field and just 5-of-24 from the perimeter. They were out-scored 49-23 in the second half after taking an eight-point lead into the break.

In Sunday’s loss at Nebraska, the Gophers shot 37 percent from the field and just 2-of-9 from three-point range.

“It’s everybody, it’s not just on one person to be confident and take those shots. We also have people turning down some good looks so we need people to stand there, be confident and shoot it,” Whalen said. “It’s not on just one person.”

But it’s not all bad. In the win last Thursday at Wisconsin, Minnesota shot 49 percent from the field and 6-of-10 from the perimeter.They were out-scored 25-11 in the fourth quarter.

Sophomore Destiny Pitts has found the perimeter shooting struggle real for the Gophers. She was 1-of-3 at Nebraska, 4-of-14 against Iowa, 1-of-8 at Michigan State and 1-of-10 against Illinois. That’s a combined 7-of-35 from three-point range, 20 percent.

She may be struggling, but she’s not going to stop shooting.

“You’ve got to keep shooting, that’s how you make shots. Eventually it’s going to go in so that’s how I like to think of it,” Pitts said. “I never try to get too down about it, I just keep shooting it. That’s how you get out of shooting slumps, just let it fly.”

Whalen said after a standout freshmen season, many opponents are game planning to shut down Pitts from the perimeter. Another emerging trend with the shooting struggles is the Gophers are facing a lot more zone defenses. They’re daring the Gophers to shoot, and the shots aren’t falling.

It’s a new challenge for Whalen, who hasn’t seen a zone defense since her playing days with the Gophers. Zone defenses weren’t legal in her WNBA playing days.

“It’s crazy to because for me I haven’t seen a zone probably since I was in college. It’s been a good challenge, it’s like putting together a puzzle,” Whalen said.

It’s also likely some of the losses were due to tired legs. The Gophers went 2-1 in a stretch of three games over six days. The good news is it’s still early in the conference season, and there’s time shoot themselves out of their struggles.

The Gophers have three of their next four games at Williams Arena, where they are 10-2 this season.