Before Tuesday’s 80-61 rout of Kansas State, Minnesota women’s basketball coach Pam Borton told her players she wanted badly to play Boston College in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament.
After the blowout victory, Borton told reporters with a smile that she thinks the Gophers match up pretty well against the Eagles. And she would know; she recruited most of their players.
Borton was the associate coach at Boston College with her mentor and friend Cathy Inglese for two years before coming to Minnesota. As the Eagles’ head recruiter for five years, she still knows their players well.
“I still feel a little bit of a connection with the (Eagles) players,” she said. “Every time they’re on TV, I want to flip it on and see how the kids do and how they play.”
But Sunday in Norfolk, Va., Borton said there will be little time for socializing and catching up with the players or Inglese.
“Everybody has tunnel vision when they get there,” Borton said. “There are practices and press conferences Ö then it’s game time and there you go. So I’ll be lucky to see (Inglese) for two minutes while we’re there.”
Borton and Inglese go back to their days coaching at Vermont, where they went through a 53-game regular-season winning streak. Inglese gave a 22-year-old Borton her first job fresh out of graduate school. She left Borton the head coaching job when she left for Boston College.
After four years as coach at Vermont, Borton followed Inglese to Boston College, where Borton was promoted to associate head coach in three years. During that time, Borton and Inglese helped pull the team up from the basement of the Big East to a top-three team in the conference.
Leaving the Big East for the Big Ten in 2002, Borton inherited a team on the rise and kept it in that conference’s upper tier.
She said Inglese knew she was ready to take on an increasingly prominent program.
“(Inglese) was extremely happy for me,” Borton said. “She knew that I wanted to coach in a program like this and in the Big Ten Conference … She was very proud I got the job, and she helped me get it.”
The parallels between the two teams are evident and logical, as Borton recruited all of the Eagles’ players, except the freshman class, and is Inglese’s understudy.
“Our tendencies are very similar both offensively and defensively,” Borton said. “Our personnel is pretty similar Ö I think it’s a good matchup for us.”
Sunday, when Borton and Inglese shake hands briefly before game time, they will no doubt feel each other’s competitive juices pumping. And when their troops take the floor minutes later, two familiar and comparable teams will be eye to eye, with a ticket to the Elite Eight on the line.