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Kenisha Bell stuck with her op­po­nent’s every move at the top of the key dur­ing Wednes­day’s first of­fi­cial Go­phers women’s basket­ball prac­tice.

It was like she nev­er left, but things were dif­fer­ent.

Bell, the U’s lead­ing scor­er and All-Big Ten first team guard last sea­son, was on the scout team. She al­read­y gradu­at­ed and won’t be suit­ing up in Lind­say Whalen’s se­cond year as Go­phers coach.

Whalen ap­preci­ates Bell com­ing back to help the play­ers who hope to fol­low in her foot­steps, be­cause Whalen did the same thing for her alma ma­ter for years.

“She was guard­ing some of our point guards,” Whalen said. “If you can get by her, you can get by a lot of play­ers.”

Bell helped to lead the Go­phers to a 21-11 re­cord in Whalen’s first sea­son, but the ex­pec­ta­tions are even high­er for the team with­out her. They went to the WNIT last sea­son, but the goal is the NCAA tour­na­ment. Whalen will now look to seni­or Jasmine Brun­son in the back­court and juni­or Des­ti­ny Pitts to be­come the team’s go-to scor­er.

Brun­son start­ed 27 games a­long­side Bell and ranked se­cond on the team with 82 as­sists in 2018-19. The depth behind her drops off in ex­peri­ence with fresh­men Jasmine Pow­ell and Sara Sca­li­a, a Stillwater na­tive.

“[Bell] told me at the end of last year, I’m going to have to lead this team at the point guard po­si­tion,” Brun­son said. “Wheth­er it be vo­cal­ly or through my play, I’m def­i­nite­ly try­ing to step up into that role. This is Day One of it.”

Pitts is Min­ne­so­ta’s lead­ing re­turn­ing scor­er with a 16.3 points per game av­er­age, but she also led the Go­phers with 81 three-point­ers last sea­son. Whalen, a form­er Go­phers All-America and Lynx star, can see simi­lari­ties be­tween Pitts and her­self when it comes to mak­ing big shots and be­ing an emo­tio­nal lead­er on the floor.

“Ex­cept she can shoot the ball and I can make layups,” Whalen joked. “Des­ti­ny has that shot-mak­ing a­bil­i­ty. She’s a great weap­on for us.”

Whalen said Pitts and Big Ten play­er of the year Meg­an Gus­taf­son were the two best play­ers in the con­fer­ence in the se­cond half of league play last sea­son. Pitts has the po­ten­tial to be an e­lite scor­er this sea­son, but she knows she has help in re­plac­ing Bell’s lead­er­ship with Brun­son and seni­or for­ward Taiye Bel­lo, who led the Big Ten with 11.9 re­bounds last sea­son.

“[Bell’s] a great scor­er and a great play­er on the de­fen­sive end, so we’re def­i­nite­ly going to miss her,” Pitts said. “But I think it’s just a­bout build­ing off our team last year. It’s good to see Taiye and Jasmine grow into the play­ers they have be­come, es­pe­cial­ly with them not get­ting as much play­ing time when they first got here. They’ve stepped into that role be­com­ing the lead­ers that we need on and off the court.”

Two on the mend

Red­shirt juni­or guard Gadiva Hub­bard and sopho­more guard Mercedes Sta­ples par­tici­pat­ed in the first prac­tice on a lim­it­ed ba­sis. Whalen said they will be brought along slow­ly to be ready for the Nov. 5 o­pen­er vs. Mis­sou­ri State.

Hub­bard missed last sea­son af­ter hav­ing sur­ger­y on her right foot. Sta­ples had offseason an­kle sur­ger­y af­ter missed six games last sea­son with lin­ger­ing left an­kle is­sues.

“It’s nev­er fun to be in­jured dur­ing the year or out for the year,” Whalen said. “We want to make sure to do ev­er­y­thing we can to make sure they’re feel­ing good. I think we’re in a good place right now.”