Borton puts women’s hoops team on the defensive

by Aaron Blake

When Minnesota’s women’s basketball program hired head coach Pam Borton last May to replace a defecting Brenda Oldfield, Big Ten Player of the Year and offensive stud Lindsay Whalen saw it as an opportunity.

“Lindsay said, ‘Coach, I’m glad (you’re here) because I need to learn how to play defense,’ ” Borton said.

The same can be said for Whalen’s teammates. Despite finishing the season tied for second in the Big Ten at 11-5, the Gophers finished last in the conference in scoring defense.

Minnesota allowed an average of 74.9 points per game against conference foes.

The only thing separating the Gophers from previous seasons’ misery was a potent offense, which finished first in the Big Ten and seventh in the nation in scoring.

This is where Borton comes in. Armed with enthusiasm and a defensive philosophy, Borton hopes to add an element absent from last year’s Big Ten Cinderella.

“We’ve got a lot of offensive weapons on this team,” Borton said. “I don’t feel like I need to put a lot of emphasis on us being able to score more points this year.

“But we can’t give up 74 points a game like they did last year. You can only win for so long giving up 74 points a game.”

Minnesota went 6-4 in games when its opponent scored more than 74 points last season. The players know they can compete in this fashion. But to flourish, they know something must change.

Whereas Brenda Oldfield was more content having her team sit back in zone defenses, Borton will go predominantly with a man-to-man set. Borton will also switch defenses constantly, incorporating zones and presses to throw opponents off rhythm.

“It’s definitely going to be an up-in-your-shorts style of defense,” senior Corrin Von Wald said. “She wants us putting pressure on the ball, denying the passing lanes and playing help defense.”

Learning this brand of defense translates to intense practices the team had not been accustomed to during Oldfield’s short tenure.

“We’re breaking down the aspects of defense,” Von Wald said. “We do a lot of break-down drills based on our defense.”

Going from a team that lived and died offensively a season ago to enduring defensive practices has been an adjustment for the team.

In addition, NCAA sanctions cost Borton’s team its first week of practice, leaving Minnesota slightly behind the competition. But Whalen isn’t concerned.

“Any time you start using a new system there’s going to be a learning curve,” Whalen said. “But I think we’re coming along nicely. It takes a while, but I definitely think our team is adjusting and adapting.”

Spending a good portion of practice learning these defensive systems would seem to leave the team under-prepared on the offensive end.

However, Borton maintains her team will be no slouch with the ball in its hands. She sees the new defensive systems catering to how the team plays offense by creating fast-break opportunities off turnovers.

“We want to put pressure on both ends of the floor,” Borton said. “You always want your defense to create your offense. With a more aggressive defense, it’s going to give us more opportunities with the basketball in our hands.”

Duplicating last season’s offensive output is a tall task to say the least. But with a new defensive credo, Borton hopes to mold her team into one that doesn’t need to score 80 points to win a game.

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