The Gophers women’s basketball team hasn’t reached the NCAA tournament since 2009, making this an important season in the eyes of some. With seven games left in the Big Ten regular season and with the Gophers set to play host to Illinois on Sunday, the Star Tribune’s Michael Rand caught up with head coach Pam Borton:
Q You have an RPI of 34, but your Big Ten record is just 3-6. I also see a lot of winnable games left on your schedule. Realistically, what do you think you need to do to make the NCAA tournament this year?
A I think we’re in good shape with our strength of schedule and RPI. It’s about where everybody else fits as well. I think worst-case scenario, .500 [in the Big Ten] or maybe a game below. I don’t think you have to go .500 to get in the tournament in our league. … But when you focus on everything we’re talking about right now, it can get really overwhelming for the kids. I saw the article in the paper about the [Gophers men’s team] and expectations. Every team goes through that, and our team did about a week ago. You can’t worry about that. You have to worry about having fun and playing free. There are a lot of expectations or pressures from the outside.
Q Are you feeling pressure, this year maybe more than in other years, because it has been a while since you made the NCAA tournament?
A No, I’m not. As a coach, if you focus on that you can drive yourself crazy. You focus on getting better each and every day, the process and the journey.
Q How is your relationship with AD Norwood Teague, and how attentive has he been to the women’s basketball program?
A I think he cares a lot about all his programs. He’s been to games, and he keeps a watchful eye out for everybody. He cares a lot about success and winning, and making sure everyone has what they need to be successful. I think he’s done a great job trying to get the practice facility. He’s come in eyes wide open … and he’s been a great addition to the university.
Q When there is a change in the AD, does it add another layer of expectation — as in, has he said anything to you about what he wants to see this season?
A I don’t think anyone puts more pressure on us as coaches than ourselves. We have very high expectations for this program, and I think he does as well. I think there is a certain level of expectation for this program, which I have and everyone else has and I’m sure he has as well.
Q What were your expectations coming into the season based on knowing how good Rachel Banham is and some of the other pieces you had around her?
A I don’t think our expectations change from year to year. We obviously have not met expectations because we want to get to the NCAA tournament every year. Once you get to the tournament, I think we could be very successful. Winning Big Ten games is tougher than winning NCAA games. It really is.
Q We’re always tempted to compare Rachel and Lindsay Whalen because they are both guards. In your mind, how different or similar are they?
A I think they’re very different in terms of their skill set. One thing Lindsay does a great job of is getting to the rim and free-throw line. If you can do that as a guard, you can find a lot of ways to win in the last six minutes. Rachel is more of a three-point shooter, jump shooter, coming off ball screens for jump shots. I think Rachel is getting better finding a way to create contact and getting to the rim, but she’s not as rugged a player as Lindsay.