Do you remember Pam Borton, who put the Gophers women’s basketball team on the map when she coached it to six NCAA tournaments in seven seasons, including the 2004 Final Four, and got fans to fill up Williams Arena?
Well, Lindsay Whalen, the new Gophers hire who played for that Final Four team, is on her way to matching or even exceeding what Borton did here.
There have been few hires that have been as successful for the University of Minnesota before a single game is played.
The university reported new season tickets have jumped from 32 in 2017 to 1,186 in 2018, along with a 100 percent renewal rate on 1,306 seats, meaning a 2018-19 season-ticket base of 2,492.
On top of that, the school has sold 158 mini ticket plans, compared to 33 last season, and in selling tickets for $1 and $5 Friday for their home opener, they have announced it as a sold out game against New Hampshire.
There is no question that Whalen is the reason for that big jump.
“What we’re working hard to accomplish is to make sure that we have Williams Arena the way I remember it, which is sold out and full capacity,” Whalen said. “There is no home-court advantage like it in the country when our fans are behind us and when we play the way we need to play, I think it’s the best home-court advantage in the country.
“I believe with the system we’re trying to run and the kids we’re trying to bring in here, we’re going to make that happen, and have it be every time we take the floor, we have our fans behind us and it’s going to be really hard to come in to Williams Arena and beat us.”
Last season, the Gophers went 24-9 and reached the second round of the NCAA tournament. But All-Big Ten guard Carlie Wagner completed her four-year career, senior post players Jessie Edwards and Bryanna Fernstrom also graduated and coach Marlene Stollings left for Texas Tech.
Asked if this team will be able to compete in the Big Ten, Whalen mentioned the graduations as well as the fact that junior Gadiva Hubbard is out indefinitely after having surgery on her right foot. Alongside Kenisha Bell and Destiny Pitts, senior Annalese Lamke and juniors Taiye Bello and Jasmine Brunson figure to start after all three came off the bench last year.
“We’ll see. I know we’re going to play tough,” Whalen said. “We always want to be the toughest team on the court.
“But I know with Kenisha back and Destiny Pitts back, there is no question we have talented players. We just have to make sure we’re connecting as a unit and then we’re getting some solid bench production. As we go we’ll be able to feel it out more.”
The state of Minnesota has produced some great boys’ high school players recently. Whalen was asked if the state is producing top girls’ players as well.
“I’ll just say we have tremendous players in the state,” the former Hutchinson standout said, “and I want this to be where everyone in the state who is working on their game and is talented wants to play.”
How is their class this season?
“We have three freshmen on the team right now in Mercedes [Staples], Barbara [Tomancova] and Delaynie [Byrne]. … I can’t speak to the next class as signing day hasn’t happened yet. But our three freshmen this year are learning a lot and trying to do their best.”
Whalen said she has been surprised at how different it is being a coach vs. being a player, which she had been for the past 18 years with the Gophers and the WNBA.
“Just the day-to-day, there is just different demands that you didn’t have as a player, a lot more responsibilities, and so I guess just probably the practice planning, the video that you watch,” she said. “As a player, you go home and that’s it for the day, it’s Netflix time and hanging out and making sure you get a good meal and it’s on to the next day. With coaching it truly is 24/7.”
U football mystery
The big mystery about the Gophers football team is how it could play well against Ohio State and Iowa and yet play so poorly against Maryland, Nebraska, Indiana and Illinois.
Ohio State, which is 8-1 and No. 10 in the county, gained only 92 yards rushing against the Gophers in a 30-14 victory. Iowa, which is ranked No. 21 in the country, had only 106 yards rushing in a 48-31 victory.
But Maryland, which is 5-4 overall, rushed for 315 yards vs. the Gophers. Nebraska, which is 2-7, rushed for 383 yards. And Illinois, which is 4-5, rushed for 430 yards, the most the Gophers have given up this season.
“That’s a lack of consistency that we have. That is credited to a lot of different things, but it’s just a lack of consistency in all areas,” coach P.J. Fleck said while pointing out the Gophers have to tackle better. “There is a lot of issues with that. We have to get that corrected. We worked on that again [Wednesday]. We’ll continue to work on that. Part of that we have to be able to catch up on that in the offseason, as well.”
Does Fleck think that changing defensive coordinators from Robb Smith to Joe Rossi will make a difference against Purdue this weekend?
“This isn’t about instant results,” Fleck said. “This is about a long-term-type decision. This isn’t about just now, it’s about long-term, as well. We want to get our guys confident and playing really fast and playing a lot better, and that is what we’re going to do.”
Unfortunately the Gophers’ remaining schedule is against teams with winning records in Purdue, Northwestern and Wisconsin. Purdue is a 12-point favorite, and with one of the best passers in college football in David Blough it figures to be awfully tough for the Gophers to defend against the Boilermakers.
Lack of loyalty
You have to wonder why Timberwolves forward Jimmy Butler doesn’t have more loyalty to coach Tom Thibodeau, who made him such a great player during their time together with the Chicago Bulls.
Butler, who was the 30th overall selection out of Marquette in 2011, rose to stardom when Thibodeau started playing him serious minutes during his third season in the NBA.
Butler had averaged only 2.6 points per game as a rookie, and 8.6 points per game during his second season before Thibodeau started playing him 38.7 minutes per game during his third season.
That year Butler averaged 13.1 points, 4.9 rebounds and 2.6 assists and was on his way to becoming one of the best players in the league.
There’s no doubt that Butler’s hard work played a huge role in his success, but so did Thibodeau’s trust in him.
Sid Hartman can be heard on WCCO AM-830 at 8:40 a.m. Monday and Friday, 2 p.m. Friday and 10:30 a.m. Sunday. • email@example.com