On Jan. 26, Penn State demolished the Gophers women’s basketball team in its worst loss of the season.
A few days later, Iowa blew the Gophers out of their own gym, sending them to everybody’s least favorite place — rock bottom.
That was the midway point of the Big Ten season. At 2-6 in conference play, an NCAA tournament berth seemed hopeless.
As March Madness approaches, it seems that the Gophers are still on the outside looking in.
ESPN bracketologist Charlie Creme lists the Gophers as one of the “First Four Out” of the Big Dance.
Still, the fact that Minnesota is even on the bubble is borderline miraculous.
And it’s a credit to head coach Pam Borton and the job she’s done with her team over the last five weeks.
The Gophers finished the season with seven wins in their last 10 games and even found themselves on the opposite end of a couple of blowouts.
Borton fiddled with the starting lineup and finally found continuity in the frontcourt after sliding sophomore Kayla Hirt into the power forward spot.
Minnesota’s seniors stepped up, and its young players started to contribute more.
All-Big Ten first team members junior Rachel Banham and freshman Amanda Zahui B. finally got the help they so badly needed, and the team started to click on a consistent basis.
While the talent was always there, and it’s reasonable to question why it took so long for everything to jell, that’s neither here nor there at this point.
Minnesota finished with its first 20-win season since 2008-09 — the last time the Gophers played in the NCAA tournament.
Though Minnesota is absent from current bracket projections, a lot could change between now and Selection Monday.
Now that the selection committee has a week to deliberate, there’s still a chance that the Gophers qualify.
If they don’t, though, it shouldn’t be lost that Borton did almost everything she could do to salvage the season.
Minnesota’s lone indictment is the lack of a signature win, but it couldn’t have finished the conference season much better. And on that basis alone, Borton retaining her job for at least one more season could be justified.
Banham and Zahui B. will be back next year, forming the premier one-two punch in a conference that’s graduating some of its top players.
The Gophers will also add incoming freshman guard Carlie Wagner next season — a high-scoring guard who could be the third scoring option the team has so desperately needed.
Minnesota’s future seems bright.
And Borton may have done just enough to ensure she’ll stick around to see it.
Ya feel me?