Lindsay Whalen knows how to turn things around

The prevailing wisdom in Minnesota is that everything Lindsay Whalen touches turns to gold, and there is ample evidence to support this notion.

She carried the Gophers to the Final Four as a player in her senior year, then had pro success in Connecticut before ultimately helping lead the Lynx to four WNBA titles. She retired a few months ago and seamlessly transitioned into full-time coaching with a 12-0 start as the head coach of her alma mater.

But maybe we should add one word to the equation: Everything Whalen touches eventually turns to gold.

It’s easy to forget now, but in Whalen’s first year as a Gophers player, Minnesota went 8-20 overall, including 1-15 in the Big Ten. Three straight NCAA tournament appearances, culminating in that Final Four, followed.

In her first season after being traded to the Lynx in 2010, Minnesota went 13-21 and missed the playoffs. The Lynx won a WNBA title the next season, their first of four, and never missed the playoffs in Whalen’s final eight seasons here.

She’s in a different role and a different situation as a head coach, but the larger point remains: These things can take time, and if given just a little bit of that — and some more help around her — things tend to work out in grand fashion.

Unfortunately, the Gophers’ 12-0 start this season probably masked that point and the team’s deficiencies.

Minnesota’s nonconference schedule was squishy soft outside of a very good win over Syracuse (No. 4 in the RPI, per RealTime RPI) and a good win at Boston College (No. 80). The rest of their nine nonconference wins came over teams with an RPI of 165 or lower — part of the reason Minnesota itself is No. 97 in the RPI with a strength of schedule of 165 at the moment, neither of which will help at all when NCAA at-large bids are handed out.

More than just hurting the Gophers’ tournament résumé, though, that nonconference slate left Minnesota unprepared for a step up in competition in Big Ten play. The exposure has come in the form of four consecutive losses since a win over Wisconsin in the conference opener.

Whalen has seemingly been outcoached at times, with the Gophers coughing up halftime leads in a bad home loss to Illinois and another home loss to a very good Iowa squad Monday. The Hawkeyes had success with a zone defense, and Minnesota had few answers for how to counter.

Then again, one of the best ways to beat a zone is with three-point shooting. The Gophers made 297 three-pointers last season on the way to an NCAA tourney berth under departed coach Marlene Stollings. Carlie Wagner and Gadiva Hubbard combined for 170 of those makes; Wagner graduated and Hubbard hasn’t played yet this year while recovering from right foot surgery.

In their four consecutive losses, the Gophers have shot a combined 11-for-55 (20 percent) from three-point range, while opponents have shot a combined 25-for-62 (40.3 percent).

Until that improves, the Gophers and Whalen can expect to see more teams daring them to shoot. Whalen can show her coaching mettle by finding creative ways to counter those defenses, but she can’t make the ball go through the hoop by herself anymore. That might be the biggest challenge of all.

That said, it might seem strange to see Whalen struggle. But it’s happened before. With the benefit of time, though, things usually pan out in a big way.

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