The second Lindsay Whalen era of Gophers' women's basketball got off to a strong start Friday night.
Minnesota pulled out a 70-47 win over New Hampshire in front of a sold-out crowd at Williams Arena. It was Whalen's highly-anticipated first game as head coach and her first time in the Barn as a member of the Gophers in 14 years.
It took the home team a few moments to become comfortable playing in that environment.
“I was nervous.” said senior Annalese Lamke. “It was really exciting just to run up that tunnel and see the stands full because that was kind of the first time that we’ve seen that. I had my chest pounding a little bit to see that many people in the stands, but it was easy as soon as the ball tipped.”
Once settled, it became evident that the energy of Minnesota’s new man-to-man defense can live up to the hype of the crowd that came to watch it.
“I wasn’t really nervous at all,” said senior Kenisha Bell. “I was more excited that we got more people to come out. We’ve been working hard, so we were able to show people what we’ve been doing all summer…. I just thought it was pretty cool that we actually got a lot of people out here.”
Coming off of a 19-win season, the Wildcats hung with the Gophers in the first half. The score was 16-11 in favor of Minnesota after the first quarter; however, the Gophers shut out the Wildcats for nearly five minutes to begin the second quarter, and the Minnesota lead stretched to 11 points by halftime.
Taiye Bello dropped a double-double with 14 points and 14 rebounds in the opener. Meanwhile, Lamke was a force in the paint, scoring 21 points on 75 percent shooting.
“She’s the first one in the gym and she’s one of our hardest workers and leader on the team. For her to be putting the time in, to have a night like this is special,” said Whalen about Lamke's effort. “I think tonight she showed, when she has poise in there and she's patient, she’s able to make finishes and take contact.”
In the second half of the game, Minnesota continued to use the crowd to their advantage. Neither team shot exceptionally well in the game but the Gophers had all of the momentum from start-to-finish, and a record 14,625 screaming fans were a large reason for that.
After three quarters the lead had expanded to 48-29 in favor of Minnesota. The Gophers continued to build up the lead from 19 at the end of three quarters to 23 points as the game finished 70-47.
On the court after the game, Whalen addressed the stadium as fans walked out.
“As a player it was the greatest honor to play in front of crowds like this when I played here, and so I’m just thankful that our players got to experience this tonight,” Whalen said. “These players work so hard, our coaches work so hard, every day…. We’re going to do everything we can to make the entire state of Minnesota proud of our program by how hard we work and how we play ... we’ll see you next weekend.”
Minnesota's next home game is on Nov. 17, but before that they will travel to Cincinnati, Ohio to take on the Xavier Musketeers on Nov. 14.