As earlier predicted by this columnist, new U of M Football Coach Jerry Kill’s coaching staff evidently will lack diversity. The lone exception: Last week Kill retained as his only Black assistant Thomas Hammock, who will continue as running backs coach. He also was co-offensive coordinator this past season.
“He’s a good fit for what I call the Coach Kill coaching family,” said the head coach of Hammock, who first was hired by former coach Tim Brewster in 2007.
Gophers’ women guards keep team in play
While size is important, without solid guard play, especially in women’s college basketball, your team’s success will be in the slim or none category.
With the exception of Northwestern and Michigan State, the nine other Big Ten squads’ starting lineups usually employ three guards. And for the most part, these backcourt performers are among their teams’ scoring leaders.
Ohio State (43.0): Minneapolis native Tayler Hill (12.9), Samantha Prahalis (17.0), and Brittany Johnson (13.1)
Iowa (42.6): Kachine Alexander, also from Minneapolis, (14.8); Kamille Wahlin (12.8); and Jaime Printy (15.0)
Penn State (37.7): Alex Bentley (15.9), Zhaque Gray (11.7), Julia Trogele (10.1)
Purdue (36.1): Courtney Moses (15.3), Brittany Rayburn (14.7), Antionette Howard (8.1)
Indiana (32.9): Jori Davis (19.1), Whitney Lindsay (8.9), Andrea McGuirt (4.9)
Michigan (26.5): Veronica Hicks (11.2), Nya Jordan (7.1), Jenny Ryan (8.2)
Wisconsin (25.6): Jade Davis (3.7), Taylor Wurtz (8.4), Alyssa Karel (13.5)
Illinois (21.7): Lydia McCully (9.6), Eboni Mitchell (5.2), Centrese McGee (6.9)
Northwestern (17.9): Beth Marshall (13.2), Meshia Reed (4.7)
Michigan State (17.1): Brittany Thomas (9.0), Porsche Poole (8.1)
“The key to having a great basketball team is having great guard play,” says U of M Coach Pam Borton of her troika of senior China Antoine (8.0), St. Paul junior Kiara Buford (16.2), and sophomore Leah Cotton (16.1), which currently ranks third among the conference backcourts in combined scoring average (40.3 ppg).
Buford and Cotton are seventh and eighth respectively among the Big Ten scoring leaders.
“I am not worried about [Buford] and China scoring for us,” admits Borton. “They have been focusing on getting the ball more inside, and just running the offense.”
The 5’-11” Buford was asked to handle the ball more this season. “We are going to want her to play the point, and China at the two at certain situations this year,” notes Borton.
“China and I always feed off each other on the court. We try to be on the same page and do the little things,” says Buford.
“I think we all are getting comfortable playing with each other. We do communicate with each other a lot,” adds the 5’-3” Antoine, who’s second in the Big Ten in assists (nearly six a game) and fourth in three-point percentage.
“China is a great leader and playmaker, but we don’t want to put it all on her,” adds the coach. Antoine concurs: “Having Kiara and Leah step up every single game takes a little pressure off me.”
The 5’-8” Cotton, however, has shown the biggest growth this season. Since her arrival, she is perhaps the Gophers’ most aggressive player. “She plays at one speed, and that’s fast,” says Borton. However, this aggressiveness not only got her in foul trouble, but also earned her more bench-sitting time last season.
This season, Cotton still is her aggressive self, but it seems a bit more controlled. “That is a good thing that she is a little more under control,” believes Borton. “I think she’s learning to be a lot more disciplined and make better decisions. We get better when she comes into the game.”
After scoring 93 total points in 27 games last season, Cotton already has surpassed that amount, adding nearly 11 points more to her scoring average, including a team-high 20 points at Baylor Dec. 5 and a game-high 19 points against Southern Dec. 9, in only her second-ever collegiate start.
“I think I have a lot more confidence now than I had last year,” Cotton says.
“Starting or not starting, she is going to play as hard as she can,” says Antoine of Cotton.
The Gophers have been inconsistent thus far this season, starting games too slow, then not having enough to finish them. Borton wants an up-tempo game, but averaging close to 20 turnovers a game thus far isn’t the answer.
After Wednesday’s game vs. Northern Arizona (Dec. 22), they open up conference play at Illinois Dec. 30.
“I don’t think we have McDonald’s All Americans [or] star power on this team,” states Borton. “We got to win basketball games playing as a team — not one person is going to win a basketball game for us.”
But admit it or not, without the aforementioned trio, Minnesota’s chances this season would be slim at best.
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.