The Minnesota Gophers women’s basketball team kicks off the 2021-22 season Tuesday afternoon in a noon matinee when they host the Jacksonville Dolphins at the Barn. It will be season opener #4 for Lindsay Whalen at the helm of the Gophers, and she will have her deepest team yet as The Gophers return 12 players from last season’s roster and add a pair each of freshmen and grad transfers. The 16 player roster is already down to 15 after one season ending injury, but depth will not be a problem for this years Gophers.
Minnesota will try and make the NCAA Tournament for the first time under Lindsay Whalen as she continued to rebuild the program. Minnesota has an impact five starters, and several other players off the bench who will be expected to play a role on a game by game basis. But it will not be easy as Minnesota will face 13 opponents who made the NCAA Tournament last year and who’s .582 winning percentage from a season ago is the toughest schedule of any Big Ten opponent.
Minnesota’s starting five will be key to whatever success the Gophers will have this season. It starts at the guards where a pair of juniors and a sixth year senior lead the way. Point guard Jasmine Russell returns for her third season in the maroon and gold after a sophomore season where she earned second team all Big Ten honors scoring a team high 14.5 points per game and dishing out 4.6 assists per game. Her running partner in the backcourt is Stillwater native Sara Scalia. Deadly from behind the arc the junior also averaged 14.5 points per game a season ago. The third leg of the triangle is 6th year season Gadiva Hubbard. She missed five games a year ago dealing with injuries, but when she is healthy she is an offensive threat averaging just over 11 points per game She enters the season ranked third in team history in career 3-pointers attempted (597), sixth in career 3’s made (206) and 17th in career points (1,249).
Minnesota is looking for a breakout season from junior forward Kadi Sissoko. The Paris native was hot and cold for her first season with Minnesota a year ago after transfering from Syracuse. Sissoko averaged 12.6 points, 6.6 rebounds and 1.7 assists per contest for the Gophers but could have mental lapses at times as well. After a full summer on campus training she appears ready to make a large impact for Minnesota this season.
The fifth starter is junior center Klarke Sconniers. She averages 6.4 points and4 rebound per game a year ago and will need to provide key post defense and rebounding for Minnesota if they want to compete in the Big Ten.
The Gophers have several players who will play a large role off the bench this season. Sophomore guard Alexia Smith should play a larger role after growing into her game as a freshman. She made 12 starts a season ago due to injuries and averages just 4.8 points per game, but showed she can play the backup point guard role if needed. Joining her in the backcourt who should play a large role this season is grad transfer from North Carolina A&T Deja Winters. She was 4th in the MEAC with 14.1 points per game and led the conference in three point shooting along with averaging 2.1 steals per game. A third guar expected to see plenty of minutes is sophomore Caroline Strande. The Racine, Wisconsin native played just 10 games last year dealing with injuries but came on late in the season to play a larger role and should earn some decent minutes this season.
Freshman Maggie Czinano joins the team from Watertown-Mayer high school where she averaged 21 points per game. She most likely will not see a ton of action this season with the deep bench Minnesota has. Sophomore Katie Borowicz from Roseau joined the Gophers midseason last year as an early enrollee. She will miss the season after having back surgery earlier this month and should be ready to return to the court in 2022.
Minnesota will need frontcourt help off the bench and they will expect to get it from a grad transfer, a freshman, and some holdovers from a season ago. Edina native Bailey Helgren returned home after transferring from Kansas. While not a scoring threat, Helgren is 6’5 and will provide much needed size in the middle and on the boards. Minnesota has high expectations from freshman Alanna Micheaux. The Michigan native was the #9 power forward recruit in the nation and was named First Team All-State as a senior. Obviously she will have a learning curve, but as the season goes on look for her to pay a larger role.
Returned for Minnesota will be senior Kayla Mershon. In sixteen games a season ago she provided depth in the middle of the floor for Minnesota. Also returning is 5th year senior Laura Bagwell Katalinich. The transfer from Cornell played in 18 games a season ago and averaged 5.6 points mainly off the bench. Rounding out the returning forwards are sophomore Erin Hedman and redshirt sophomore Grace Cumming who both saw limited action a season ago and will most likely be towards the end of Whalen’s bench rotation this season
Another new person around the program will be new radio play-by-play voice Justin Gaard. The KFAN personality and Gopher football sideline reporter takes over the job from Corbu States who moved over to St. Thomas to call football and men’s basketball games for the Tommies. He will make his debut just like the rest of the team at noon on Tuesday when Minnesota opens with Jacksonville. It will be the first time that these two teams will face one another. Jacksonville plays in the Atlantic Sun conference and went 4-17 a season ago, so Minnesota should be a strong favorite in the game. The Dolphins best player will be redshirt junior DeShari Graham who led the team with 12 points per game a season ago.
Tuesday’s game will tip-off at Noon and can be streamed live on BTN+. The radio broadcast will be on KFAN+ 97.6 FM, and streamed live on I Heart Radio.
It’s a quick easy warmup for the Gophers before they hit the road for their first major task of the season at Arizona State Friday night.