MINNEAPOLIS (AP) Pam Borton took the Minnesota women’s basketball program to heights unseen before when she guided the Gophers to their first Final Four in 2004. That was 10 years ago, and a five-year NCAA tournament drought proved too much for her to overcome.
Borton was fired Friday, a day after a loss to South Dakota State in the women’s NIT.
”This decision is a future decision,” athletic director Norwood Teage said. ”It’s not based on really what’s been done in the past. I looked at who we are and felt like we needed new leadership in the future.”
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Borton is the winningest coach in program history with a 236-152 record in 12 seasons at the school. The Gophers went 22-13 this season, their most victories since 2004-05.
”I am grateful for my 12 seasons at the University of Minnesota,” Borton said in a statement issued by the school. ”This is a great state and university, and I have enjoyed becoming a part of this community.”
It was an up-and-down tenure in Minneapolis for Borton, who helped make women’s basketball relevant again in Minnesota, but also dealt with a mass exodus of players from the program midway through her tenure.
The program was a mess in 2001 when coach Cheryl Littlejohn was fired amid findings of major NCAA rules violations. Brenda Oldfield, now Brenda Frese, engineered a remarkable turnaround with a 22-8 record, a significant spike in attendance and advancement to the second round of the NCAA tournament. She left for Maryland after one year, though, and athletic director Joel Maturi picked Borton, then a Boston College assistant, as her replacement. Borton had four seasons on her resume as the head coach at Vermont prior to that.
With the foundation set, and dazzling point guard Lindsay Whalen drawing crowds and leading the team, the Gophers reached the NCAA regional semifinals in Borton’s first year. Then came the Final Four in season two, followed by a return to the Sweet 16 the year after that. But while the Gophers would go to three more NCAA tournaments over the next four seasons, they slipped a little without Whalen and her standout sidekick, Janel McCarville, both of whom helped lead the Minnesota Lynx to a WNBA championship last year.
In 2006, following a first-round ouster from the NCAA tournament, starters Jamie Broback, Natasha Williams and Liz Podominick, reserves Brittney Davis and Lauren Lacey, and assistant coach Dave Stromme left the program within three weeks after the end of the season. A five-week investigation into the departures by the athletic department declared poor communication the cause of ”misunderstandings” and ”feelings of mistrust” among coaches and players, but Maturi reaffirmed his support for Borton.
Two weeks before Maturi retired from his position as AD in June 2012, he gave Borton a two-year contract extension that the university never publicly announced. But over the four seasons between 2009 and 2013, as attendance continued to decrease, the Gophers went a combined 62-66, with just one WNIT appearance and one entry in the WBI tournament, which they won in 2012.
Behind Big Ten scoring leader Rachel Banham, the Gophers were a little better this season, finishing 8-8 in conference play. But they went 0-8 against the top five teams in the Big Ten, keeping them out of the NCAA tournament again and essentially sealing Borton’s fate.
Assistant coach Kelly Roysland, a former Gopher and native of Fosston, Minn., will serve as the interim head coach until a permanent replacement is named.
”This is a golden opportunity for a coach,” Teague said. ”The program has succeeded in the past. We’ve proven we can win. We have unbelievable fan support. It’s a great place to go to school. There are so many intangibles that make this a terrific job that raises those expectations that we should be succeeding at a really high level.”
AP Sports Writer Dave Campbell and freelance writer Al Schoch contributed to this report.