Slow starts finally do Minnesota in

The Gophers survived poor beginnings in the first two rounds but not against Baylor.

David McCoy

TEMPE, Ariz. – Earlier in the season, Minnesota women’s basketball coach Pam Borton was fond of saying there were things her team could get away with against middle-of-the-road opponents but not the best.

One of those things finally caught up with the Gophers on Saturday.

Minnesota made a habit of starting games sluggishly in a 64-33 win against St. Francis and 73-58 win against Virginia in the first and second rounds of the NCAA Tournament. That trend sunk the Gophers in a 64-57 loss to Baylor in the Sweet 16 at Wells Fargo Arena.

“All teams would like to start out hot,” Baylor coach Kim Mulkey-Robertson said. “But it wasn’t anything in our game plan. They started slow, but as far as making it happen again, it wasn’t even discussed.”

Planned or not, the Bears held the Gophers without a single point for more than five minutes to start the game while they built a 9-1 lead.

Liz Podominick hit Minnesota’s first field goal of the game with 12:51 left in the half. Shannon Bolden’s three-pointer a minute and a half later cut Baylor’s lead to 13-6.

But the damage was already done, as Baylor’s 13-3 lead was its largest of the game and gave the team the jump start it needed to lead and hold on the rest of the way.

“I think teams came out a little more fired up than us and kind of rattled us a little bit early, and then it takes a little bit for us to get going,” center Janel McCarville said.

Borton blamed rust for the poor start against St. Francis. Minnesota hadn’t played in 12 days since losing in the Big Ten Tournament final.

Then she cited nervousness against Virginia two nights later. The Gophers survived a paltry offensive effort that allowed the Cavaliers to go up 14-7 early and lead for much of the first half.

She had a third explanation for the stagnation against Baylor.

“I think we were rushing some things too much,” Borton said. “The first few plays we went right to Janel and Jamie (Broback), and I felt they were rushing some of their moves.”

And that might have flown against the likes of 14th-seeded St. Francis and sixth-seeded Virginia.

But it certainly did not fly against second-seeded Baylor, this year’s Big 12 champion and now winner of 17 straight games.

The loss ends a very successful season for Minnesota. The Gophers won an NCAA-era-high 26 games and made it to its third-straight Sweet 16.

But Borton said that’s what made this particular loss so difficult to take.

“It was all that much more disappointing because we never expected to lose,” Borton said. “March is the best time of the year, because it’s tournament time. But it’s the worst time of the year, too, because your season has to come to an end.”