The day that news surfaced in 2018 that Gophers women's basketball coach Marlene Stollings was bolting for Texas Tech, I made a public plea for athletic director Mark Coyle to consider an unconventional hire.

Call Lindsay Whalen, I screamed on social media. Make every reasonable attempt to hire the basketball legend, even though she had no coaching experience.

I believed the potential payoff was worth the risk.

It hasn't worked out that way to date.

Coyle, Whalen and the program have arrived at an inflection point. Another disappointing season ended with a whimper Wednesday, a 72-67 loss to Penn State in the first round of the Big Ten women's tournament at Target Center.

The Gophers committed 22 turnovers, trailed by as many as 18 points and never held a lead against a Penn State team that lost twice to the Gophers during the regular season and had only one victory since Jan. 22.

It was a bad loss to a lower-seeded team that played the final 12 minutes without its point guard after an injury. In the 30th game of Whalen's fifth season in charge, her players looked completely befuddled by Penn State's press in the first half.

That falls on the head coach.

Whalen's lack of coaching experience required patience from the start, but patience does not come in unlimited supply.

Year 6 should bring an ultimatum from her boss: Show significant improvement in results, or it's time for a new direction.

Not marginal improvement, either, but a jump that leaves no doubt that the program is in good hands and building toward consistent success.

The pushback from fans ready for a change right now grew more intense this season. Whalen deserves one more season with the nucleus of freshmen who gained valuable experience in the battles in Big Ten competition, especially Mara Braun, a star in the making. Allow Whalen and that group an opportunity to build on the foundation together.

But six years is ample time for any coach to provide tangible evidence of his or her coaching chops.

The Gophers have zero NCAA tournament appearances in Whalen's five seasons. They are 32-58 in the Big Ten. Their final rank in the conference standings in that span: sixth, 11th, ninth, ninth, 12th.

Making Whalen a first-time coach in a power conference always carried a high boom-or-bust inevitability. Women's basketball is not a revenue-generating sport at Minnesota, meaning Coyle assumed less risk to his department's financial spreadsheet if the move didn't pan out.

One common complaint recited on message boards and in newspaper comments sections is that Whalen has received more latitude from the administration — and media — than any coach not named Lindsay Whalen would have ever been granted.

Duh, of course she has. That was guaranteed the moment she accepted the job.

Whalen earned a longer grace period by virtue of her Hall of Fame playing career. She was a winner in high school. A winner in college. A winner as a pro. She belongs on the list of greatest athletes and winners the state of Minnesota has produced.

That kind of equity buys time and patience, especially for someone who had no experience in that job. The admiration for what Whalen accomplished as a player is such that there's probably not a person in this state who doesn't want Whalen to succeed as a coach, too.

Her team showed signs of improvement late in the season, but the loss to Penn State leaves a bad taste. While Whalen praised her team's competitive fight in erasing a large deficit to tie the game with less than a minute remaining, the sloppiness through three quarters cannot be ignored. And Penn State isn't exactly a heavyweight opponent.

The pressure on Whalen gets cranked up now. Her hiring five years ago generated big headlines and hope that she would provide the same magic touch as coach that she did as a fiery point guard. That has not happened so far, and time is running out.