At 5-0, Borton still has concerns

Aaron Blake

On Nov. 23, Minnesota’s women’s basketball team began its season in the semifinal of the Subway Basketball Classic at Williams Arena by holding Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne, scoreless for the first 3:58 while opening up a 13-0 lead that would not be rescinded.

To close the half, the Gophers would hold the Mastodons without a point for an additional 5:27.

What troubled first-year Gophers coach Pam Borton, however, were the 28 points her team allowed between those stretches, and the 45 additional points it gave up in the second half.

All in all, the trend has continued over the first five games of the season. Despite Minnesota’s 5-0 record, the 12th-ranked Gophers have allowed too many second half and second chance points.

“We do a lot of things well at certain times,” Borton said. “Sometimes we execute extremely well, and sometimes we don’t.”

The Gophers have allowed 68.6 points per game this season. Last year, Minnesota was near the bottom of the Big Ten, allowing 74.9 points per game to much tougher conference foes.

“(Borton) is encouraging, but we know we have a lot of work to do,” reigning Big Ten Freshman of the Year Janel McCarville said. “We aim to allow less than 65 points per game.”

The Gophers have fallen short of this goal in four of their five games. The fact that they have failed while playing teams like IPFW and Radford is of even more concern as the team finds itself a month away from Big Ten play.

Another bothersome point is how a significant majority of these points have come in the second half. The Gophers have allowed opponents to score an average of 40.4 points after halftime.

On the flip side, in almost every second half this season, Minnesota has had the game in hand. Versus IPFW, the Gophers allowed those 45 points while scoring 69 of their own en route to a team-record output of 116 points.

Minnesota’s first and only real defensive test this season came late in the game last Friday versus New Orleans. After leading by two with 3:25 to go, the Gophers allowed the Privateers only four points in the final minutes of the game and won 85-75.

Still, Borton is unsure.

“This team has been learning how to win for the past year,” Borton said. “Now we have to learn how to put teams away. We’ve let teams play with us too much.”

Borton’s concern over misleading numbers also applies to opponents’ shooting percentages.

The Gophers have held foes to a combined 37 percent from the field.

“These teams are scoring a lot of points because we’re allowing a lot of offensive rebounds,” Borton said. “It seems like teams are shooting 50 percent because they will get an additional 20 points on rebounds.”

The Gophers’ opponents have averaged 16.2 second chances per game despite being, for the most part, smaller teams.

Having played five games in an eight-day span may have also contributed to some poor defensive stints.

“When the whole team was tired, we didn’t shut down but we allowed teams to do more things than we should have,” senior center Kim Prince. “In Chicago we were fatigued and when we went to Denver it was twice as bad because of the altitude.”

Minnesota will have a good opportunity to rest before testing its defense on the East Coast this weekend as the Gophers square off against better competition in Providence on Friday and Harvard on Sunday.

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