Gophers women hope to avoid letdown for WNIT opener

  • Article by: KENT YOUNGBLOOD , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 19, 2014 - 12:52 AM

The Gophers coach said her team is determined, not sad, over missing NCAAs.

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Minnesota head coach Pam Borton talks to her players during a women's college basketball game at the Bryce Jordan Center in State College, Pa., on Sunday, Jan. 26, 2014. The Penn State Lady Lions defeated the Minnesota Gophers, 83-53. (Abby Drey/Centre Daily Times/MCT)

So, how long does it take to turn disappointment into determination?

That was the question Tuesday, shortly after the University of Minnesota women’s basketball team had finished practice, just a day before its first-round Women’s NIT tournament game.

On Monday the Gophers, believing they had done enough to qualify for the NCAA tournament, were surprised when their name was not called.

Wednesday they play to host Wisconsin-Green Bay in a WNIT first-round game at Williams Arena.

Is that enough time to get the Gophers’ emotional rollercoaster pointed in the right direction?

“I thought we had a little bit of that last year,” Gophers coach Pam Borton said. A year ago the Gophers’ NCAA bubble burst, and the team never really got its edge back, losing a first-round WNIT game to Ball State.

“We had a little bit of a letdown when we played our first game here,” Borton said. “We didn’t play with a lot of energy. But I think we learned from last year. We know we can’t let that happen again.”

The 20-12 Gophers will face a UW-Green Bay team that went 22-9 and won the Horizon League regular-season title before losing in the conference tournament final. The Phoenix is an efficient offensive team led by a three-guard attack, including Red Wing freshman Tesha Buck, and coached by Kevin Borseth.

He coached at Green Bay from 1998 through 2007 before going to Michigan for five seasons.

After the 2011-12 season he resigned to return to Green Bay to be closer to his family.

Those five seasons at Michigan have given Borton a good idea what to expect from Borseth’s offense.

But the most important thing is what to expect from the Gophers themselves, who will be less than 48 hours removed from Monday’s disappointment when the game against the Phoenix tips off.

“I am excited to be able to play again,” guard Rachel Banham said.

“We are disappointed and upset. But I think we’re able to turn that disappointment into something else. Into motivation. We’ll be ready to play. As much as we’re disappointed, we’re still playing basketball together, and we love playing together. ”

For seniors Sari Noga and Micaëlla Riché, it could be the last time they play for the Gophers, period.

“I just want to make this go as long as possible,” Noga said. “I just want to play with them as long as I can.”

The 64-team field means if the Gophers get on a run they could play as many as six more games together. Not that they’re looking ahead. That happened last year, Borton said. The Gophers looked at their first-round matchup and started looking ahead to who they might play next. The result was a first-round loss.

“I think this team is extremely close,” Borton said. “We’re appreciative and excited that we still get to play.’’

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