Gophers’ early exit the result of several seasonlong problems

Minnesota finished the year on a 2-6 skid after being ranked as high as 11th.

Emily Wickstrom

Minnesota’s women’s basketball team started its season with plans of remaining in the national spotlight with a long postseason run and a fourth-straight appearance to the Sweet Sixteen.

But attempts to assert themselves among the nation’s top programs failed as the Gophers (19-10, 11-5 Big Ten) ended their season on a 2-6 slide and an unmemorable note.

The Gophers’ 2006 postseason contained only two disappointing first round exits – to Indiana in the Big Ten Tournament and to Washington in the NCAA Tournament.

“It’s definitely disappointing to end the season so early in the tournament,” junior guard Kelly Roysland said after the Washington game. “We’ve got a lot of stuff to work at in the offseason.”

The end-of-season struggles seemed improbable at the beginning of February when Minnesota was in the hunt for first place in the Big Ten and ranked No. 11 in the country.

But coach Pam Borton never was fully satisfied with her team’s defense, commenting after more than just one game that her team was not playing the “Minnesota basketball” that prided itself on defending.

The season before, Minnesota’s defense ranked second in Big Ten play, while this year’s team dropped to sixth.

In every Minnesota loss, the team gave up at least 60 points, concluding with the 73-69 loss to the Huskies on Saturday.

“Giving up 73 points, especially when you get into the NCAA Tournament, you’re not going to be playing very long into the season,” Borton said.

Another Gophers fault was expected to be one of their strengths early on – an equal-opportunity offense with no premier players and shots for everyone.

Having balanced scoring worked at times, like in Minnesota’s Nov. 20 win over Stanford when it had six players in double figures. But overall, the Gophers struggled without a superstar.

Senior guard Shannon Bolden indicated that the Gophers might still have felt the back-to-back 2004 and 2005 departures of Lindsay Whalen and Janel McCarville late in the season, when there was no single player left with the ability to carry a team.

“Any year where you have All-Americans it’s a lot easier,” Bolden said. “Both (Shannon Schonrock and I) were blessed to play with All-Americans for three out of our four years here.

“We had a lot of experience. But we didn’t have a lot of go-to players.”

Minnesota had only one player – junior forward Jamie Broback – who finished the season averaging double-digit scoring numbers, a rare situation for a top-25 team.

Still, the Gophers are not in crisis mode for next season.

With their top four scorers returning for next season, it’s likely that one of them – likely Broback or Roysland – will assume the role as a primary scorer.

Minnesota also has seven contributing players back and three incoming recruits (Korrine Campbell, Brittany McCoy and Breanna Salley) who potentially have the skills to make an impact as freshmen.

“We had our ups and downs,” Bolden said. “We went through some really good parts of the season. We went through bad parts, and unfortunately we ended on a bad part.”

Football adds a DB

Minnesota football coach Glen Mason said on national signing day on Feb. 1 that he would like to have recruited more defensive backs.

Minnesota signed its second defensive back since then on Monday, adding junior college transfer Duran Cooley with a national letter of intent.

Cooley comes to the Gophers from Reedley Junior College in Reedley, Calif., where he was an All-Central

Valley Conference first-team performer, with 75 tackles, 13 pass breakups, three forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries and one blocked punt for a touchdown.

Before his time at Reedley, Cooley spent two years at Boise State. He is scheduled to enroll at Minnesota this summer.

Cooley’s signing comes after Minnesota signed defensive back Daron Love, another junior college transfer, to a national letter of intent March 8.

Track and field awards

Minnesota’s men’s and women’s track and field teams swept the Big Ten track and field athlete of the week awards in the first week of the outdoor season.

Senior men’s thrower Karl Erickson and junior women’s thrower Liz Alabi both met NCAA regional qualifying marks and won their respective event titles this weekend to earn their respective honors.

Erickson won the shot put with a throw of 60 feet, 9 1/4 inches and the discus with a 183-foot, 3-inch effort at the Bay Area Blast Off, hosted by California this weekend. The award is the second of Erickson’s career.

Alabi achieved a new personal best in the hammer throw at the Shamrock Invitational in Conway, S.C., with a winning throw of 184-feet, 10-inches, the fourth-best mark in team history. She also won the shot put with a 49-foot, 6 1/2-inch throw. The award is the first of her career.

Both teams have this weekend off. The next stop for the men will be at the LSU Open in Baton Rouge, La., while the women’s next meet will be at the Stanford Invitational. Both those events are March 31 and April 1.