Women’s hoops working out defensive kinks for NCAAs

Aaron Blake

After a disheartening loss to Iowa closed out the Big Ten portion of the season last Friday in Indianapolis, coach Pam Borton’s Minnesota women’s basketball team was dealt more than two whole weeks to deal with it.

That’s fine by her.

The 15th-ranked Gophers (23-5) flew home Saturday morning having lost in the quarterfinals to a lower-seeded team for the second straight year.

At that point, they faced having to wait until this Sunday to find out how it will affect their seeding in the NCAA tournament and until the following weekend to possibly get back on the winning side.

“We’ve got almost two weeks to do things,” Borton said Tuesday. “We’re going to tinker with some things, make some adjustments and fine-tune some things.

“We’re not going to win games if we don’t get this part of the basketball game down. It’s our job as coaches to drill it and drill it and drill it and develop a mentality with our players in practice.”

Borton has been displeased with certain aspects of her team’s defense ever since the Gophers handled Big Ten regular season champion Penn State on Feb. 23. Despite these recent defensive lapses, Borton maintains it’s only a matter of getting the mentality and intensity back that kick-started the seven-game win streak.

Particularly, Borton noticed poor team defense and plenty of layups and easy shots allowed in the team’s last two contests. Iowa finished Friday’s game shooting at a 58.3 percent clip.

Minnesota’s rookie coach compares the team’s current struggles defensively to a lull that occurred after a dominating performance versus Purdue on Jan. 19. Following the 90-75 victory, the Gophers lost three of four games to middle-of-the-pack Big Ten teams on the road.

“We played great defense against Purdue, and then we slacked off for about a week and a half,” Borton said. “We got into a rut and just needed to get back to basics and fundamentals.”

Once her team returned to these basics and fundamentals, the result was a snowball of momentum accumulated during a seven-game win streak to close the regular season.

As a team with hopes of winning the Big Ten tournament, the Iowa loss could have destroyed it.

But this team hasn’t forgotten that it has still won seven of its past eight games and has a defense it didn’t have heading into last year’s NCAA tournament.

Still, Borton and her players believe they played themselves out of a possible fourth seed in Indianapolis.

A weak nonconference schedule will also hurt the Gophers’ chances of improving on last season’s No. 5 seed. Minnesota is ranked No. 26 in the Rating Percentage Index, which takes schedule strength into account.

Regardless of who Minnesota is matched up with Sunday, the players know this week’s set of practices is a chance for them to get things right with themselves.

“I don’t really worry about who we play,” All-Big Ten selection Janel McCarville said. “We’ve got to concentrate on us rather than scout the whole field of 64.

“We just need to come together and find that same page.”

For all concerned, that same page can only be found through the same type of defensive practices that came to Minneapolis on the plane along with Borton in July.

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