Depth at the point concerns Borton

by Aaron Blake

One season ago, Minnesota women’s basketball point guard Lindsay Whalen averaged 36.6 minutes per game during conference play. During her infrequent breaks, Ebba Hemberg would run the point.

But Hemberg left the team in September and returned to her native Sweden. Also, freshman point guard Shannon Schonrock has been sidelined with injuries and unable to spell Whalen.

Heading into Friday’s exhibition contest versus South Dakota State at 7 p.m. at Williams Arena, Corrin Von Wald has taken over Hemberg’s post.

“(Coach Pam Borton) felt all the guards out and got a feel for who could handle the ball,” senior guard/forward Von Wald said. “She pulled me aside and asked me how I would feel about running the point.

“I said I wouldn’t mind it and it just worked its way in (to the offense).”

With Borton’s pressure defense and emphasis on team depth, she is hopeful Whalen will be able to play 33 or 34 minutes per contest. This creates a larger window each game in which the team requires services provided by Hemberg a season ago.

“You hate to lose anybody in your program,” Borton said. “What Ebba brought to the table was her work ethic. She made people better in practice.

“Maybe Corrin wouldn’t have had to play backup point guard but maybe she still would have been the best backup point guard for us,” Borton said.

So in the meantime, Von Wald will serve as Whalen’s primary backup while retaining her other duties with Whalen in.

Even with both of them on the court, Borton will admit neither of them are true point guards. Whalen inherited the job in much the same way Von Wald has.

Ozlem Piroglu had knee surgery before the 2001-02 which forced then-coach Brenda Oldfield (now Frese) to replace her with Whalen, who was coming off an impressive freshman campaign.

Whalen responded by averaging 22.2 points per game and earning Big Ten Player of the Year honors as the Gophers turned a 1-15 conference record into an 11-5 mark and a postseason berth.

Nonetheless, Borton says she would jump at the chance to move Whalen to her original position -shooting guard.

“Whalen’s best position is the shooting guard,” Borton said. “But she’s the best point guard we have at this point.

“Being a point guard at this level – you cannot replace experience.”

Borton describes Schonrock as a prototypical point guard who she would like to back up Whalen. As it stands, a strained hip flexor has hampered her advancement.

“Any time a freshman comes in, there’s a learning curve,” Whalen said. “When you get hurt, it’s going to set you back even more.”

With Schonrock returning to practice in the last few days, Borton has the opportunity to work her into the offense. In the meantime, Von Wald will take the reigns when Whalen sits down.

If last Friday was any indication, Von Wald will do just fine.

With Whalen taking a breather halfway through the first half, Von Wald scored on her first two possessions. She hit a long jump shot from the arc and followed it with a three-point play in transition.

As it stands, Borton seems to have temporarily filled the void.

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