After three consecutive road games with their last game ending in a loss, the Gophers made their way back to Williams Arena, rested and looking to bounce back.
The team did just that.
Minnesota beat Eastern Michigan 80-56 Sunday to move to 8-1 on the season. Kenisha Bell led the team in scoring with 18 points, but it was the Gophers bench that gave the team an edge in the afternoon game after a couple of season-highs.
“I’m really proud of our team for moving to 8-1,” head coach Marlene Stollings said. “Sitting tied atop the Big Ten is a really big deal, and we’re excited to be in that position. I thought we handled a different defense than we’ve seen recently with our inside play."
Center Bryanna Fernstrom scored a season-high 17 points, with nine rebounds, as forward Taiye Bello followed down that same route with her own season-high of 16 points and eight rebounds, while both coming off the bench.
Minnesota has only been out-rebounded once the entire year, with that game coming in a blowout win against Lehigh in the season opener. In this game, the Gophers out-rebounded Eastern Michigan 53-42.
“Rebounding was the key for this game,” Bello said. “I try to start out with that, and then from there work on my offense.”
With a zone offense comes holes, and the Gophers were able to exploit that through the post. The guards were unselfish the entire game, finding the right player at the right time after penetrating and watching the zone collapse, as shown by the team’s season-high 26 assists. However, it wasn't just the offense that was clicking.
Defensively, Minnesota held Eastern Michigan (2-5) to 28.2 percent shooting from the field, with 17 points off turnovers.
“The scout this game was really focused on us having openings as a five player, so we were really just taking advantage of that,” Fernstrom said.
Also in action was Carlie Wagner, who scored 12 points, while two-time Big Ten freshman of the week Destiny Pitts added six points and 10 rebounds for her sixth double-digit rebounding game of the season. While Minnesota won, this nonconference battle was about more than just a win and a loss.
“Nonconference is to prepare for the conference play, and everyone’s cleaning up things, and trying to advance their team overall offensively and defensively,” Stollings said. “We’re no different. There are things that we want to focus on and clean up game by game."
The Gophers will play at Georgetown Thursday for another nonconference challenge. With Big Ten games looming, the veteran-led team said they know how important these next games are to continue growing early in the season.
“It’s important that we treat these next couple of weeks very seriously, push the needle, and advance,” Stollings said.