Oct. 9, 2013
MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. - Defense. Coaches often preach about its principles, and talk about its importance to any team's success. On the other side of the coin, players often hate working on defensive drills in practice, opting instead for offensive skills that get their names in the newspaper or mentioned on Twitter.
But it's the coaches who determine the practice plans, and to the chagrin of some of the players, Minnesota's defense has been a primary focus for the Gophers during their workouts at Williams Arena.
Head coach Pam Borton's team is in its second week of full practices, and Borton is very determined to see her Gophers make improvements on the defensive end of the court as she enters her 12th year on the job.
Junior guard Rachel Banham, a candidate for the Wade Award, recently said that it seemed like two of every three hours of practice is spent working on defense. In actuality, it's probably more along the lines of a 50-50 split, according to Borton.
Like many of her teammates, Banham probably wouldn't list defensive skill work among her favorite things to do, but she and the rest of the Gophers also realize that improvement on that end of the court will likely result in more victories this season for the Maroon and Gold.
In each of the past two seasons, Minnesota has committed 609 personal fouls. Two years ago, that was over a 36-game schedule, as the Golden Gophers finished 19-17 and captured the WBI title. Last year's team finished 18-14, with 19 players fouling out of games. By comparison, Minnesota's opponents were whistled for 59 fewer fouls last season.
In taking a look at Minnesota's final stats from 2012-13, other than the fouls, it's easy to see the areas needing improvement. The Gophers ranked 11th in the Big Ten for points allowed (65.5), field goal percentage defense (.398) and three-point field goal percentage defense (.315). Minnesota did hold a rebounding advantage of more than two per game, but the average points allowed figure increased from 62.3 ppg during 2011-12.
Borton's best teams at Minnesota have been sound at the defensive end of the court. The 2003-04 team that advanced to the NCAA Final Four held opponents to 59.7 points per game, while the 2004-05 team that won 26 games allowed just 55.3 ppg. Last year, the top six teams in the Big Ten for scoring defense all gave up less than 60 points per game.
Since that 2004-05 season, Minnesota has had just one season where it held opponents under 60 points per game - 59.8 during 2008-09. Borton feels that this year's team has the potential to return to the type of defense that helped the Gophers win 75 games during her first three seasons, which is why the team is emphasizing hard work on those defensive principles during practice.
Fans' first opportunity to see Minnesota's defense in action is Oct. 29, when the Gophers play host to Winona State in an exhibition game at Williams Arena. The Warriors are coming off a 21-11 campaign. Tipoff time for that game is set for 7:00 p.m. CT, and all available tickets will be $6.
Zahui B. Adjusting to Collegiate Game
Redshirt freshman center Amanda Zahui B. is "the real deal," according to head coach Pam Borton, and the 6-foot-5 post player from Stockholm, Sweden, is hoping to make an impact for the Golden Gophers this season.
Amanda is in her second season with the Minnesota program, but this will be the first season she'll appear in a collegiate game. She is one of Sweden's top players, having been a member of the national team for six years. Click on the link for her GopherSports.com Bio to read more about her past accomplishments. But Borton and her staff are definitely looking forward to Amanda's impact on Minnesota's post play, and fans of the Gophers will be excited to see her in action.
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Game Preview: Maryland
Minnesota will conclude its regular season facing the No. 2/5 team in the nation in College Park on Sunday.
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