U women's basketball hopes Big Ten run lands NCAA at-large bid

  • Article by: DENNIS BRACKIN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 7, 2013 - 6:34 AM

Gophers women fight not to miss the NCAAs for a fourth year in a row.

hide

At the Williams Arena in a game between Penn State and the U of M women's basketball team, U of M head coach Pam Borton exhorted her troops during a timeout .

Photo: Richard Tsong-Taatarii , Star Tribune

CameraStar Tribune photo galleries

Cameraview larger

Katie Loberg was in grade school when the Gophers women’s basketball team made its run to the Final Four in 2004, and as she matured into a standout at Princeton High School it became easy for her to envision herself following in the footsteps of Lindsay Whalen, Janel McCarville and other names.

Now the 6-4 senior is staring at the end of her college career and the distinct possibility she will never appear in an NCAA tournament.

“It’s very upsetting,” Loberg said. “It’s something you dream about doing since you’re little, and watching the Gophers go in 2004, I just kind of figured it was a given, something that was going to happen.”

The Gophers would be out of the tournament for a fourth consecutive year if their season was being judged as of now. But Minnesota gets another chance to pad that résumé — an overall record of 18-12 and 7-9 in the Big Ten — at this week’s Big Ten tournament, with a Thursday opener against an Ohio State team that the Gophers have already beaten twice.

Minnesota breathed some life into its NCAA hopes by winning its final two conference games — including a victory over league champ Penn State, which Minnesota would face again in the second round of the Big Ten tournament. The Gophers might no longer need to win the Big Ten tournament to secure an NCAA bid, although anything less would leave them on that precarious perch known as “the bubble.”

“I think we’re in a great situation,” Gophers coach Pam Borton after her team’s strong conference finish, which included victories in the final two road games, at Ohio State and Indiana.

A tournament run would certainly help silence Borton’s critics. The Gophers suffered a fourth losing conference season in a row and have seen attendance slump to under 3,500 from almost 10,000 in 2003-04. Borton, who received a two-year contract extension — taking her through 2015-16 — in June from outgoing AD Joel Maturi, also failed to land either of the state’s two McDonald’s All-America high school seniors: Braham’s Rebekah Dahlman (Vanderbilt) and Hopkins’ Nia Coffey (Northwestern).

“That’s just the nature of the business,” Borton said of the criticism. “When we start worrying about what everyone else is saying, then we’re worried about the wrong things.”

Optimistic about future

Borton says she is optimistic about the future, both long and short term. The Gophers have been competitive against every team in the Big Ten with the exception of two one-sided losses to Nebraska — 84-63 on Jan. 20 and 80-56 on Feb. 3. And Nebraska is in the opposite bracket of the conference tourney.

The key for the Gophers, as it has been throughout the season, will be playing consistent defense. Borton’s trademark before this season was a tough, hard-nosed defense and an offense that was at times difficult to watch. But this winter the team has reversed its recent history, with All-Big Ten sophomore guard Rachel Banham fueling an offense that leads the Big Ten in field-goal percentage (.449) and is No. 2 in the conference in scoring (behind Penn State). Conversely, the Gophers are 11th in points allowed (66.1 per game) and opponent field-goal percentage (.400).

“We’ve always been able to be in games because we can defend teams,” Borton said. This team? Not so much.

“We’ve played 1-3-1, 2-3 zone, different things in our man-to-man,” she said. “We’ve tried trapping, full-court stuff — a lot of different things. But it’s just like it’s something different every time down the court.”

Borton is hopeful a corner was turned with excellent defensive performances in those road victories over Ohio State and Indiana.

“The team’s been up and down,” said Banham, who led the Big Ten in scoring. “We’ve had some really good wins, and some really bad losses. But every team goes through that. I think every day, every game, we’ve gotten better and learned. So overall, we’ve gone up.”

Big additions to come

That’s the direction Borton believes her program is headed. Despite losing out on Dahlman and Coffey, next year’s newcomers will include 6-5 redshirt Swedish center Amanda Zahui and two guards with size — Joanna Hedstrom of Minnetonka and Stabresa McDaniel from Texas — something the coach says her team needs to contend.

She also has four commitments for the 2014 class, led by New Richland-Hartland-Ellendale-Geneva’s Carlie Wagner, a guard most rate on a par with Coffey and Dahlman. The Gophers also have commitments from a pair of Ohio centers and Benilde-St. Margaret’s point guard Grace Coughlin.

Borton can’t talk about commitments but says the future is “absolutely” promising.

“We’ve got our entire starting five returning next year, plus [Zahui], who has been able to get familiar with our system,” she said. “You look at the Big Ten and the hits other programs are going to take losing this year’s seniors, and I think a lot of programs are losing a lot.”

But for now, Borton and her players are happy to focus on the present and the possibility that an NCAA bid is still within reach.

Borton said this team “has a lot of life, a lot of energy left,” as opposed to “a lot of teams I’ve coached that this time of year have been like, they’re exhausted, they’re tired,” she said. “[With those teams] it was almost a drag coming to practice. You’re trying to find the emotional and mental energy to get through the rest of the season. I don’t feel like this team has really hit that wall at all.”

And so, Loberg, the Minnesota kid with those childhood dreams, still hopes for a happy ending.

“I can see it happening,” she said of gaining that coveted NCAA bid. “This team has so much potential.”





 

  • Big Ten women’s basketball tournament

    gophers women Big Ten basketball tournament

    First round: No. 8 Gophers vs. No. 9 Ohio State • 6 p.m. today • Hoffman Estates, Ill. • TV: BTN

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions

ADVERTISEMENT

Tennessee 7:25 PM
Jacksonville
Philadelphia 12/20/14 3:30 PM
Washington
San Diego 12/20/14 7:25 PM
San Francisco
Minnesota 12/21/14 12:00 PM
Miami
Baltimore 12/21/14 12:00 PM
Houston
Detroit 12/21/14 12:00 PM
Chicago
Cleveland 12/21/14 12:00 PM
Carolina
Atlanta 12/21/14 12:00 PM
New Orleans
Green Bay 12/21/14 12:00 PM
Tampa Bay
Kansas City 12/21/14 12:00 PM
Pittsburgh
New England 12/21/14 12:00 PM
NY Jets
NY Giants 12/21/14 3:05 PM
St. Louis
Buffalo 12/21/14 3:25 PM
Oakland
Indianapolis 12/21/14 3:25 PM
Dallas
Seattle 12/21/14 7:30 PM
Arizona
Denver 12/22/14 7:30 PM
Cincinnati
New York 7:00 PM
Chicago
New Orleans 7:30 PM
Houston
Milwaukee 9:00 PM
Sacramento
Oklahoma City 9:30 PM
Golden State
Florida 6:00 PM
Philadelphia
Colorado 6:00 PM
Pittsburgh
Toronto 6:00 PM
Carolina
Washington 6:00 PM
Columbus
Anaheim 6:30 PM
Montreal
St. Louis 9:30 PM
Los Angeles
Edmonton 9:30 PM
San Jose
St Thomas (TX) 61 FINAL
Rice 72
Stony Brook 6:00 PM
Canisius
Temple 6:00 PM
Delaware
FIU 6:00 PM
Long Island
Lehigh 6:00 PM
Quinnipiac
South Alabama 6:00 PM
Richmond
Seton Hall 6:00 PM
South Florida
Ga Southern 6:00 PM
Stetson
Yale 6:00 PM
Vermont
Cleveland State 6:00 PM
Virginia
Wright State 6:00 PM
Western Carolina
Nicholls 6:30 PM
Louisiana Tech
Morgan State 6:30 PM
Rider
Idaho State 6:30 PM
South Dakota St
Oakland City 7:00 PM
Austin Peay
Eureka 7:00 PM
Bradley
Appalachian St 7:00 PM
Charlotte
Connecticut 7:00 PM
Duke
Southern Miss 7:00 PM
Jackson State
Coastal Carolina 7:00 PM
Ole Miss
Montana State 7:30 PM
South Dakota
LSU 8:00 PM
UAB
Ohio 8:05 PM
Evansville
CS-Dominguez 9:00 PM
Cal State Fullerton
Walla Walla 9:00 PM
Idaho
DePaul 9:00 PM
Oregon State
Nevada 9:00 PM
Pacific
Portland State 9:00 PM
San Francisco
CS-Bakersfield 9:05 PM
Utah State
Nevada 12/20/14 10:00 AM
Louisiana
Utah State 12/20/14 1:20 PM
Texas-El Paso
(23) Utah 12/20/14 2:30 PM
Colorado State
Western Mich 12/20/14 4:45 PM
Air Force
South Alabama 12/20/14 8:15 PM
Bowling Green
BYU 12/22/14 1:00 PM
Memphis
Marshall 12/23/14 5:00 PM
Northern Ill
Navy 12/23/14 8:30 PM
San Diego St
Central Mich 12/24/14 11:00 AM
Western Ky
Fresno State 12/24/14 7:00 PM
Rice
Niagara 76 FINAL
Cleveland State 58
High Point 59 FINAL
VA Commonwealth 81
Towson 64 FINAL
Wake Forest 74
Presbyterian 50 FINAL
Charlotte 66
Chicago State 62 FINAL
Bradley 59
Northwestern Coll 58 FINAL
Drake 102
Vanderbilt 67 FINAL
Marquette 80
Temple 66 2nd Half 4:53
Howard 44
Southern Miss 53 2nd Half 4:19
Ole Miss 53
UMBC 44 2nd Half 4:59
Rider 60
Miami-Florida 37 1st Half 1:02
UCLA 27
St Mary-KS 22 1st Half 1:10
South Dakota 63
William & Mary 40 2nd Half
Wofford 21
Troy 6 1st Half 15:01
Evansville 11
Loyola Marymount 6:00 PM
USC
St Francis-PA 6:00 PM
Duquesne
Indiana-Southeast 6:00 PM
IUPUI
Delaware State 6:00 PM
Detroit
Tenn Temple 6:00 PM
Gardner-Webb
West Virginia St 6:00 PM
Radford
Fairfield 6:00 PM
Seton Hall
Dartmouth 6:00 PM
New Hampshire
Ball State 6:00 PM
Pittsburgh
Jacksonville 6:00 PM
Tennessee St
Trine 6:00 PM
Western Mich
Tenn Tech 6:30 PM
Lipscomb
Samford 7:00 PM
Tulane
New Orleans 7:00 PM
Tulsa
Incarnate Word 7:00 PM
TX-Pan American
Ark-Little Rock 7:00 PM
South Dakota St
CS-Northridge 7:30 PM
Northern Ariz
Santa Clara 8:00 PM
Oregon
(19) Oklahoma St 8:00 PM
Weber State
Washington 8:00 PM
San Diego State
Cal Poly 8:00 PM
New Mexico
(10) Louisville 8:00 PM
Grand Canyon

ADVERTISEMENT

question of the day

Poll: Who is your favorite pro sports coach in the Twin Cities?

Weekly Question

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters

ADVERTISEMENT

 
Close