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Lindsay Whalen likes what Gophers women have done in New Year

The Gophers (9-8) have won 2 of 3 games in 2022 and are 2-3 in Big Ten play heading into Saturday’s 5 p.m. tipoff against Ohio State.

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Minnesota Gophers head coach Lindsay Whalen during a timeout in the third quarter of a college women’s basketball game against American at Williams Arena in Minneapolis on Wednesday, Nov. 17, 2021. Minnesota beat American, 73-56.
John Autey / St. Paul Pioneer Press

It’s been a rough start to the New Year for Lindsay Whalen, who had an emergency appendectomy on Jan. 5 and had to watch her basketball team play on television for the next two games.

At least her team is playing well.

“I like where we’ve been since the New Year,” the Gophers coach said.

The Gophers (9-8) have won 2 of 3 games in 2022 and are 2-3 in Big Ten play heading into Saturday’s 5 p.m. tipoff against Ohio State (12-3, 4-2) at Williams Arena. Whalen watched the Gophers win at Rutgers on Jan. 6 and lose at No. 8 Maryland on Jan. 9 before returning to coach the team in a convincing, 82-66 victory at Wisconsin on Wednesday.

Watching her team from afar, she said, allowed her to take a step back and see the big picture on the Gophers.

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“I really like where we’re at,” she said. “Taking a step away for a week, you have a chance to think.”

Whalen made it clear in the fall that she expected her team to contend for an NCAA tournament berth in her fourth season, and a victory over the Buckeyes — who received 31 votes in this week’s Associated Press poll — would be a nice feather in the Gophers’ cap.

So would Iowa, which is up next, Jan. 20 at the Barn. The Hawkeyes (9-4, 3-1) received 38 votes in this week’s AP poll and feature the sophomore guard Caitlin Clark, who leads the Big Ten in scoring and is tied for best in the nation with a 25.2-point average.

“One game at a time, but you’re talking about some things when you move toward postseason,” Whalen said.

The Buckeyes rank sixth nationally in scoring (83.7 points a game) and beat the Gophers, 83-59, in Columbus last season, their only meeting.

“They shoot it great, they press you the whole game, so it’s going to be a big challenge for us,” Whalen said.

But the Gophers are a deeper team than last season, with four scorers averaging double figures — led by junior guard Sara Scalia’s 15.2 points a game — and a good young post player in freshman Rose Michaeux, averaging 8.3 points and 5.1 rebounds in her past 10 games.

“I’m just excited. I haven’t been here to coach a game, in the Barn, for it feels like half a season,” Whalen said after a practice at Williams Arena on Friday.

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Because of her illness and a COVID postponement against Northwestern on Dec. 31, the last home game Whalen coached was Dec. 15, a 99-93 victory over Ohio University.

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