Coach Pam Borton’s 11th season at Minnesota holds an immense weight in deciding her future with the Gophers.
Three straight Sweet 16 appearances in the NCAA Tournament from 2002-03 to 2004-05 kicked off Borton’s first three years. Since then, the Gophers have reached three NCAA Tournaments in the last seven years – passing the first round just once.
Junior Micaella Riche and sophomore Rachel Banham, who combined for 47 points in the Gophers’ 89-81 upset victory of No. 7 Penn State on Thursday, took a step towards assuring Borton’s job security.
The Gophers finished the regular season at 7-9 in the Big Ten, which is dismal considering Borton’s preseason claim that this year’s team had a shot at the Big Ten title.
But Minnesota kicks off its Big Ten tournament on Thursday against Ohio State. The eighth seed Gophers are positioned to make a run, one that would bolster their chances at making the NCAA Tournament.
Looking past the matchup with the Buckeyes, who the Gophers were 2-0 against this season; Minnesota would play Penn State again – this time on a neutral court.
The Nittany Lions are back-to-back Big Ten regular season champions after a 14-2 conference record this year. Minnesota was one of the two teams to beat Penn State.
Even the Gophers trip up to Happy Valley, Penn. on Jan. 24 resulted in just a five-point loss.
If Minnesota were to top the No. 1 seed Penn State in the Big Ten tournament, things could be looking up for a Gophers squad that ESPN’s Charlie Crème has as “the next four out” in his NCAA Tournament bracket predictions.
The University of Minnesota had just acknowledged that Borton received a two-year extension from outgoing athletics director Joel Maturi last spring.
The University never announced the extension for their veteran coach, who has missed the NCAA Tournament for the last three years. If the Gopher ladies miss it again, new athletics director Norwood Teague wouldn’t blink at going over her contract and discussing a possible buyout.
However, with some postseason success, the Gophers could be one of the last four in the NCAA Tournament and effectively save Borton’s job for at least another year – much like the men’s basketball team did with coach Tubby Smith during their upset victory over No. 1 Indiana on Tuesday.