Minnesota women’s basketball (WBB) finally reached college basketball’s pinnacle in 2004, losing to eventual champion Connecticut in the national semifinals. Since that historic run, however, we’ve seen only six NCAA appearances and the 2012 WBI championship.
A closer analysis finds that Minnesota has regularly posted non-conference winning records, but only Northwestern, Wisconsin, Illinois and Michigan have worse league records than the Gophers, one of four Big Ten schools that have yet to win a league championship.
“We need a program where it is competitive at a top national level,” said retired Hall of Fame and eight-time Minnesota girls’ high school championship coach Faith Johnson Patterson of the Gopher women’s program.
We said it before and we say it now: The Gophers, in order to be perennial contenders, need more local SWATs (sistahs with attitude and talent) to complement the usual “Minnesota Nice” contingent that the majority White crowd at the Barn are so comfortable with. The women of color who do come to Minnesota, usually out-of-staters, have been far too few to transform the Gophers into consistent winners as opposed to annual also-rans.
We can easily count at least 30 local players of color over our years on the beat who could have helped the Gophers, but instead, they went to other schools—some to Big Ten schools—and performed at high levels. For example, all 10 players in last Saturday’s SEC tourney semifinals were Black, something you won’t see at Gopher women’s home games.
“I don’t know if that ever is going to change,” Johnson Patterson said. “Minnesota is a difficult culture,” especially for Black female players, noted the North Minneapolis native. She still remembers being totally overlooked by the state’s only Division I team despite her all-city playing pedigree, only to set numerous records at Wisconsin in the late 1970s.
As with their male counterparts, the Gopher women’s program too often relies on being the only Division I school in the state and too often overlooks city players for out-of-staters instead. It relies too much on a couple of suburban AAU teams as local recruiting feeder programs. By now Minnesota should be more than an occasional contender, becoming annual sure-enoughs.
You can’t consistently compete in the Big Ten, let alone nationally, without Black players with attitude, speed and size. Just ask the 13 other league teams that come to the Barn.
The embarrassing 55-point defeat two Sundays ago at home to Maryland should be a stone-cold reality wake-up call to the mostly White Gopher fans on just how good sistahs are and can be.
This year’s Gophers are hoping for the WNIT when the bids come out next week. Their barely above .500 overall record keeps them in post-season consideration. But a change of culture is needed for Minnesota WBB if they ever want to be a constant contender. A few more SWATs could turn the tide.
Charles Hallman is a contributing reporter and award-winning sports columnist at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.