Williams becomes fifth player to leave program early in the past two weeks

Sophomore forward Natasha Williams will transfer from the Minnesota program.

Emily Wickstrom

On Wednesday sophomore forward Natasha Williams became the fifth player to leave Minnesota’s women’s basketball team since the season ended, and was granted a release from her scholarship.

Natasha Williams, who started 14 of 29 games for the Gophers, averaged 8.2 points and 3.8 rebounds per game and was projected to be the starting center next season.

“It was more of me, actually,” Franklyn Williams, father of Natasha, said of her decision. “I wasn’t going to leave my daughter in that kind of chaos down there and I knew she wanted to leave. And I said, ‘Let’s get out of there.’ “

Franklyn Willliams said the departures of junior forwards Jamie Broback and Liz Podominick had a lot to do with his daughter’s decision to leave.

“I had heard earlier that Jamie was going to leave and Liz, I didn’t really believe it was going to happen,” Franklyn Williams said. “I felt from just watching the last game (against Washington in the NCAA Tournament) that Jamie felt that she was embarrassed before the entire nation sitting on the bench for over 18 minutes in the second half.”

Natasha Williams followed Broback, Podominick, Lauren Lacey and Brittney Davis out of the program, creating an unprecedented crisis for a team that qualified for the NCAA Final Four in 2004.

Freshman Emily Fox, after speculation that she would become the sixth Gophers player to leave the program, said Wednesday she will return next year.

Fox and junior Kelly Roysland now are the only players with adequate game experience who are returning from last season’s 16-player roster, with some Internet message board speculation that Roysland might be the next to go.

“Whatever happened, happened, and it’s in the past,” Fox said. “I know I’m excited. I know the other girls that are still here are excited to move forward and continue to play.

“One of the reasons I came here was because I wanted to be a leader. I didn’t know it was going to be this soon, but I’m ready to take on this role.”

Coach Pam Borton said Tuesday that a large roster full of players, some with near-equal abilities, made it hard to make everyone happy.

“Sixteen kids on our roster was extremely difficult to manage with playing time,” Borton said. “More is not better.

“I think our (remaining) kids are handling it extremely well,” Borton said. “I’m very, very proud of them. My 100 percent focus right now is on the kids returning and on the incoming recruits and their parents.”