Borton’s Gophers picked to finish third in Big Ten

Aaron Blake

CHICAGO – It has been a familiarly unfamiliar sight. Over the past three years, three different people have sat at Minnesota’s coach’s table at the Big Ten media day.

Cheryl Littlejohn was nothing short of a disaster in her four-year career. Brenda Oldfield’s one-year stint was just short of a miracle. So where does this leave enthusiastic newcomer Pam Borton?

Third, according to preseason rankings by both Big Ten coaches and media. The coaches put Penn State and Purdue above Minnesota, while the media chose the Boilermakers and Lions. Only three teams were chosen in each poll.

Borton couldn’t be happier with such expectations. After all, Minnesota returns all five starters and adds three solid freshmen to a team that tied for second in the conference a year ago.

“I would have been disappointed if we weren’t in the top three with the way they finished last year,” Borton said. “Sometimes when you start so high in the preseason, there’s a little added pressure.

“I think we’re in a really good spot.”

Ohio State coach Jim Foster doesn’t take much stock in the preseason rankings because of what the Gophers did a season ago.

“If I looked at last year’s preseason picks, I don’t know if I would have seen Minnesota,” he said. “Based on that, I’ll remain objective.”

Borton would rather emphasize where the team will finish while addressing unfinished business. Despite a 21-6 regular season record, and a number three seed in the Big Ten tournament, Minnesota was eliminated by rival Wisconsin.

After defeating the University of Nevada-Las Vegas in the opening round of the NCAA tournament, the Gophers lost 72-69 in the second round to North Carolina.

This is part of Minnesota’s motivation. Another part of it stems from bitter feelings about Oldfield’s departure. Oldfield was the Associated Press and Big Ten Coach of the Year.

“I’m sure everybody’s still upset deep down,” 2002 Freshman of the Year Janel McCarville said. “But the feelings are starting to fade.”

Among the most vocal players concerning Oldfield’s leaving Minnesota for Maryland was team captain and 2001 Big Ten Player of the Year Lindsay Whalen.

“People asked and I just said what I felt about it,” Whalen said. “It hurt for a while and we were upset. But we just need to turn it around and hopefully become better because of it.”

No matter who calls the shots, the talent that orchestrated a 10-game turnaround between the last two Big Ten seasons remains.

“I think (Oldfield) was lucky coming into the program having the talent she did,” McCarville said. “She landed on a goldmine. I don’t think she’ll have the season she had with us at Maryland.

“Coach Borton is in such a good position too, because she’s got everyone coming back and three great freshmen coming in. So she’s even in a better position than Oldfield was.”

Borton’s ability to further last season’s success will determine whether she’s more Littlejohn or Oldfield.

Whalen recognized

whalen was named to the Big Ten preseason all-conference team. The guard was joined by Michigan’s LeeAnn Bies, Iowa’s Jenny Lillis, Purdue’s Shereka Wright and Penn State’s Kelly Mazzante. Mazzante was also named preseason Player of the Year.


Aaron Blake covers women’s basketball and welcomes comments at [email protected]