Former Gophers standout Sara Scalia embracing new role with No. 4 Indiana
Thanks for checking out Basketball Across Minnesota, my weekly look at some of the state’s best basketing stories, from prep to pro. – Markus Fuller
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For the first time in her basketball career, Sara Scalia is not a full-time starter. She comes off the bench for No. 4 Indiana en route to her homecoming Wednesday against the Gophers.
The former Stillwater standout is taking a smaller role after transferring from the Gophers to Indiana, a 20-1 team with plenty of talent and Final Four ambitions.
But this week, Scalia is back in the spotlight.
The 5-10-year-old, who spent three seasons as the Gophers’ shooting guard, will be back at Williams Arena for the first time, taking on the Gophers (9-12) and their former coach Lindsay Whalen.
“It’s going to be a different feeling for sure,” Scalia said. “Ultimately, it’s going there for me and the team to win. Not just how I switched. But Minnesota is a big part of me.”
The Gophers program was rocked last spring when Scalia announced she was entering the transfer portal – joining fellow prominent U players Jasmine Powell (who ended up in Tennessee) and Kadi Sissoko (USC).
A Minnesota native and the state’s first recruit to volunteer with Whalen in 2018, Scalia said it was a difficult decision to leave the Gophers. She averaged a career-high 17.9 points last season, shot 41.3% from three-point range and set a school record 91.5% on free throws, which earned her the All-Big Ten honorary second-team title .
When Scalia entered the portal with two years of eligibility remaining, her father Peter told the Star Tribune: “The clock is ticking. She’s quite a strong-willed kid. She said, ‘I want to win.’ “
Whalen, who now coaches a rookie-laden Gophers team, tried to understand and support the decision as best she could, Scalia said.
“That was definitely something special for me because that doesn’t happen everywhere,” she added. “I’m glad I definitely get along with her.”
When asked Tuesday if it was weird to see Scalia in a different uniform at Williams Arena, Whalen said, “I don’t know. It’s hard to say if it will be until I get out of there. But you know, it’s just like the transfer portal.”
The Hoosiers struck gold in the Portal with Scalia, Sydney Parrish (Oregon) and Alyssa Geary (Providence). They brought back stars Grace Berger and Mackenzie Holmes from their Elite Eight and Sweet 16 teams, so some of the transfers had to sacrifice playing time.
But that didn’t happen to Scalia in the beginning. She started in the first 14 games after Berger was sidelined with a knee injury. Two of their best performances came with 16 points in a win over then-No. 11 Tennessee on November 14 and 12 points in a win over then-No. 6 North Carolina on December 1.
After her role changed to a key reserve, Scalia went through a scoring slump, but she reminded the Big Ten how lethal she can be as a goalscorer, with a season-high 19 points in a Jan. 23 win at No. 1. 13Michigan.
Scalia, who are averaging a career-low 9.0 points this season, have relied on the support of their teammates to remain confident on offense. She’s also committed to becoming a lot more reliable in defense. That’s an area Indiana is known for in women’s college hoops.
“Defensively I’ve definitely gotten a lot better,” Scalia said. “When I came here I obviously had to work on it, but the coaches did a good job of helping me improve.”
Before Scalia joined the Gophers as a high school junior, Scalia helped make Stillwater basketball one of the top Class 4A programs in the state. Her younger sister, Amber, followed in her footsteps in the ponies and is now a freshman guard at St. Thomas.
After the Hoosiers come to the barn and play the Gophers, Scalia will continue her new journey to pursue a Big Ten title and a national championship far from home. And she’s working harder every day to be the Impact player she’s been in Minnesota for so long.
“It’s easy for me to keep believing in myself and the work I put into the game,” Scalia said. “The most important thing is to have faith in my work, but at the end of the day I’m just trying to do whatever it takes to help the team win. That’s the main goal here.”
Fuller’s five ballers
Monica Czinano, Iowa
The 6-3 Watertown native averaged 19.6 points during a six-game winning streak for the Hawkeyes, boosted by her 22 points in 11-for-13 shooting from the field last week in the excitement of No. 2 Ohio State has been highlighted.
Maddyn Greenway, Providence Academy
The state’s second-biggest scorer and freshman sensation made her the top prospect in Minnesota regardless of class, with 41 points (16 to 16 on free throws) in Saturday’s 87-80 win over Class 4A No. 1 Hopkins.
Anders Nelson, William & Mary
The St. Thomas transfer averaged 49 points on 15-for-16 shooting, including 9-for-10 from three-point range in two games last week, including a career-high 27 points in a win over Stony Brook .
Myia Ruzek, Rochester Community & Technical College
She scored 28 points in just 18 minutes against Anoka-Ramsey Community College last week and helped her RCTC team improve to 16-0 and maintain its spot as the No. 1 junior college Division III team in the nation.
Nasir Whitlock, DeLaSalle
The Lehigh recruit and senior guard has lit the scoreboards, but nothing is more spectacular than his 52 points in a win over Hopkins last week. He averages 33 points during a six-game winning streak.
521 – Anthony Edwards’ career three-point mark to surpass Andrew Wiggins for second place in Timberwolves history.
.455 — Pac-12 best three-point shot percentage for Utah native Gianna Kneepkens of Duluth.
50 — Single game points recently matched or surpassed by Hayfield’s Isaac Matti (50), DeLaSalle’s Nasir Whitlock (52), Duluth Marshall’s Brooks Johnson (56) and Cass Lake-Bena’s Gabby Fineday (58).
Basketball Across Minnesota is published weekly on startribune.com. After reading, don’t be a stranger on Twitter because chatting about these stories makes it even more fun to share. Thanks Mark (@Marcus_R_Fuller on twitter)