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Three will be key if Gophers want better result next year

Minnesota failed to reach the Sweet 16 for the first time in four years.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – With the graduation of seniors Shannon Bolden, April Calhoun and Shannon Schonrock, Minnesota’s women’s basketball team is in desperate need of new leaders.

There is no doubt who will be expected to carry the load, however there is some doubt as to whether they can do it.

Next season’s success likely will hinge on the performances of coach Pam Borton’s first recruiting class – juniors Jamie Broback, Liz Podominick and Kelly Roysland.

All three have shown considerable talent and the ability to take over games at times, but are plagued by inconsistency.

Broback clearly was the best player on this year’s team, but does have a tendency to disappear in big games and a reluctance to accept her role as a go-to player.

An All-Big Ten honoree at 14.1 points per game, Broback was held to eight points in the Gophers’ disappointing loss to Indiana in the Big Ten Tournament and scored just two Saturday against Washington in the NCAA Tournament.

Had Broback played to her capabilities, Borton said she thought Minnesota would have beaten the Huskies.

“Without a doubt,” Borton said. “(Broback)’s our most talented player on the floor facing the basket and with her back to the basket. When Jamie plays to her ability, there are not many players in the country that can stop her.

“In this case Jamie wasn’t getting the job done. It’s the NCAA Tournament. You’ve gotta get the job done.”

Podominick came to Minnesota as the most celebrated recruit of the three, expected to make an immediate impact. While she always has been in the playing rotation and is probably the Gophers’ best post defender and rebounder, Podominick never has provided consistent offense, leading to decreased minutes.

After being held scoreless in the Gophers’ Feb. 12 loss to Purdue, Borton moved Podominick out of the starting lineup in favor of sophomore Natasha Williams.

Roysland has the opposite problem from Podominick – her offense is there, but her defense is lacking.

As the only guard with the ability and willingness to drive into the lane, Roysland’s role this season was to create for herself and draw fouls. Despite her ability to score, Roysland averaged less than 18 minutes per game and often found herself replaced with better defensive players.

However, if she performs next season like she did Saturday when she scored 23 points, Borton may have no choice but to keep her on the floor, defense or no defense.

“I set forth at the beginning of the season to be a scorer and to be counted on to make big plays,” Roysland said. “My teammates made some great passes and set up some great screens for me where I was able to knock down a few shots.”

If Minnesota wants to continue its run atop the Big Ten and avenge its first-round NCAA Tournament loss this year, there is no question that Broback, Podominick and Roysland will have to step up and develop into the kinds of leaders Bolden and Schonrock were.

“I think they’ll be fine,” Bolden said. “If they remember how this feels (losing in the first round), if they remember they don’t want to go out like this. Obviously we’re graduating six seniors, but they have a lot of talent left.”

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