Borton impressed with young Gophers squad’s poise over weekend

John Hageman

Minnesota head coach Pam Borton predicted before the season that she would see her team âÄî that includes four freshmen and just two seniors âÄîgrow up quickly this season.

And if the opening weekend was any indication, they might be growing up quicker than expected.

The Gophers (1-1) fell in the championship game of the Best Buy Classic 79-75 to Wisconsin-Green Bay on Sunday, after overcoming a 16-point second-half deficit to come within two points late in the game.

âÄúItâÄôs just important to find out what this team is made of,âÄù Borton said. âÄúI think that was a test âĦ our team showed a lot of character and what they were made of.âÄù

The Gophers fell behind early 11-2 but fought to within two by the half. After another Wisconsin-Green Bay run at the outset of the second half, the Gophers clawed back to within two again, but clutch field goals in the waning seconds halted the GophersâÄô run.

The Gophers shot 57 percent from the floor Sunday âÄî a good sign for a team that shot 20 percentage points lower than that last season.

Although itâÄôs a small sample size, Borton liked her teamâÄôs shot selection in the first two games, but the 27 turnovers they committed Sunday were a major factor in the loss.

âÄúThatâÄôs 27 possessions that we could have gotten back and had an opportunity to score,âÄù Borton said. âÄúIf we can just cut down the turnovers and get some of those possessions back and weâÄôre shooting 50 percent, then I think weâÄôll be good to go.âÄù

Helping boost the shooting percentage was sophomore guard Leah Cotton, who scored 41 of the GophersâÄô 60 bench points over the weekend, and provided a spark down the stretch to put Minnesota within reach.

Cotton may be the GophersâÄô most explosive scorer so far, but Borton said that doesnâÄôt necessarily mean she will start.

âÄúWeâÄôve got four guards right now that are playing pretty well,âÄù Borton said. âÄúIt doesnâÄôt matter who starts and whoâÄôs coming off the bench.âÄù

While the backcourt is beginning to flourish, the Gophers may lose some depth in the frontcourt with sophomore Katie LobergâÄôs injury. Loberg, who had 15 points and six rebounds in a win over Northern Illinois the day before, fell awkwardly on teammate Brianna Mastey in the first half of SundayâÄôs game and left the court clutching her left knee.

A MRI on Monday revealed that there was no tear in the knee, and she wonâÄôt need surgery. Borton didnâÄôt set a timetable for LobergâÄôs return.

The Gophers will host Pittsburgh in the inaugural game of the Super Six Series on Wednesday night, which features two teams from each of the six major conferences facing a non-conference opponent. It will be the first all-time matchup between Minnesota and the Panthers.

The Panthers, who had first round exits in both the Big East tournament and the NIT, defeated Youngstown State by 20 points in their season-opener last week.

The Panthers have five seniors starting but a bench of seven freshmen.

Like Pittsburgh, the Gophers have plenty of youth, but Borton said with a weekend of experience under their belt, the Gophers are better prepared for the rest of the season.

âÄúI think we really grew up as a team and are ready to move forward into tomorrowâÄôs game,âÄù she said.