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At first, Lindsay Whalen said no.

She was not surprised freshman post player Alanna Micheaux was playing so well. The Gophers women's coach had seen the 6-2 forward/center dramatically improve over the past couple of weeks, make 21 of 28 shots over the past seven games and prove her ability to finish at the basket through contact.

So, no inkling of what was to come, then?

Well ... speaking specifically of Wednesday's 82-76 loss to unbeaten North Carolina? A game in which Micheaux came off the bench, made eight of 10 shots, scored a career-high 23 points, had seven rebounds and drew five fouls?

OK, maybe.

"Now, to have 23 points," Whalen began. "Eight-for-10 shooting. That first shot, a little fadeaway jumper. The amount of big shots, big-moment plays she made for us was impressive. She's been trending, but I don't know if we saw that."

The Gophers (6-4) will open their Big Ten Conference schedule Monday night against Nebraska (8-0) at Williams Arena. It will be Minnesota's second consecutive game against an undefeated power conference team.

There is no guarantee Micheaux — who goes by her middle name, Rose — will come out and put up the kind of game she did against North Carolina. She will start drawing more attention, for sure. There are ups and downs to any freshman season.

But Micheaux gives the Gophers an offensive post presence that should have ripple effects throughout the team's offense.

"We'll see what other teams come with," Whalen said. "I think they're going to challenge her touches in the post, try to take her away on the block. But if you have somebody down there who garners attention, that means more freedom on the perimeter, which means then you can play inside-out."

A star at Wayne (Mich.) High School, Micheaux already has proved to have the strength to finish through contact. But she has shown great strides on defense as well. Whalen said Micheaux reminds the staff a bit of former Gophers post Taiye Bello, who was so adept at playing pick-and-roll defense, defending her player and still being in position for the rebound.

Micheaux says games such as against the Tar Heels do wonders to bolster her belief in herself.

"I'd say my confidence is really high," she said. "I think I've improved in a lot of aspects. But defensive-wise, my toughness has gotten up there."

She has shown the ability learn quickly. Earlier in the season, Micheaux was often called for traveling when initiating a move. Hours of work in and after practice — much of it with Gophers assistant Shimmy Gray-Miller — has all but eliminated that. A lefthander, her ability to finish with the right hand has improved.

"I would say much of playing basketball [at the college level] is a mind game,'' she said. "It took me a minute to get through it mentally, to know that I can do it."

What she already has is a broad-shouldered, strong body seemingly perfect for Big Ten play.

Which, of course, starts Monday.

What Micheaux did Wednesday came against a good team with a strong post presence. Micheaux — who lists WNBA star A'ja Wilson as her favorite player and role mode, saying "I want to get up there with her, be even better" — will see more of that in the coming weeks.

"She has a great touch around the basket," Whalen said. "On defense, her pick-and-roll defense has improved dramatically. She has the concepts down. And now, she's covering so much space."