Oct. 25, 2012
PAM BORTON: Well, it's great to be here. Great to see everybody. Good morning. Obviously everybody is excited about the season. This is everybody's favorite time of the year because we get to teach and get into the gym and practice and so forth.
I'm excited about this team this year. Really we are able to build off how we finished the season last year, ending the season with a win, playing three and a half more weeks of basketball, four extra games.
Freshmen have brought a lot to our team. I know I said that last year with Rachel Banham, and she proved everybody right with what a freshman last year brought to our team.
What our freshmen bring to our team this year is more ball handling. They're tougher. We've got more speed on the floor, and that was probably one of our Achilles heels last year was just more ball handlers, our speed on the perimeter, and just basically taking care of the basketball.
If you look at a lot of stats, our stats from last year, the turnovers were really the difference of winning and losing basketball games.
I'm excited to get all of our kids healthy and back on the floor. Rachel Banham was just cleared to practice this week after recovering from a blood clot this summer and I can answer some questions about that. But we're excited about the season and put a lot better team on the floor this year.
Q. I guess I will start with that because I wasn't aware that Rachel had had any problems. How long has she been sidelined, and I guess will she start the season?
PAM BORTON: Yes. Well, it was the middle of July when we had discovered a blood clot in her lung, very genetic, got it from one of her parents. It was a fluke thing that happens to people and athletes that sometimes don't make it. We were very fortunate to have caught it in the middle of July. She was hospitalized for a couple days and put on medication.
But she is healthy. She's been in practice ever since we started practice, just doing no contact activities, five on 0. She's been able to keep most of her conditioning in practice, but she will start fully this weekend, actually tomorrow. We're excited to have her back and excited she's healthy.
Q. You were the most successful program in the postseason last year in the Big Ten, going 4 and 0. There were eight qualifiers for the postseason. What does that say about the quality of competition in this league and on a national level?
PAM BORTON: It's a tough league. Number one, I'd like to get ourselves to the NCAA Tournament, so that's definitely our goal this year is to contend to win a Big Ten title and get ourselves to the NCAA Tournament. Any time you can play some extra games in the postseason is great.
The Big Ten was very deep last year with a lot of talent, very talented seniors. The programs did a great job just scheduling and putting themselves in a position to figure out a way to get seven teams in the NCAA Tournament.
We have a great chance of doing that again this year, just with the quality of players, the quality of coaches that we have, the quality of the schedules that people put together, and then just the quality of play.
Q. Last year I talked to you about Rachel Banham at this thing, but there was another kid, Kayla Hirt, who everybody told me was going to be
PAM BORTON: Good if not better.
Q. How is she this year coming off the injury?
PAM BORTON: She's doing well. She's back. She's healthy. She's a 6'2" athlete that we're going to be playing at the power forward position. She's a prolific scorer and a great athlete. She's still shaking some of the rust off herself a little bit. She hasn't played in a couple years, but she's a great scorer, great rebounder, great athlete, probably one of the toughest biggest gym rats that I've seen. She's one of those throwback kids that every coach looks for -- those kids that you have to kick out of the gym.
Kayla Hirt was a top 25 kid in the country coming out of high school before she got injured, and I think she's still a top 100 kid. She will be starting for us this year at the power forward position. She's going to be a match up issue for a lot of teams at the forward just because she can score. She can shoot, she can put the ball on the floor, she rebounds. I hate to compare players, but she's a lot like Hooper at Nebraska and just that type of scorer, shooter, can play in and out. She's not there yet because Hooper is a pretty special player, but that's the vision that we have for her. She'll be starting for us this year, and it gives us another legit scorer on the floor.
Q. Before Rachel's blood clot this summer, what were the things that she was trying to work on in the off season to get better?
PAM BORTON: The biggest thing I wanted her to work on was just getting in the best shape in her life, and then her leadership skills. She's one of our captains this year, and just her becoming a great leader and her and I getting on the same page, not that we weren't on the same page, but just that type of relationship that a head coach and a point guard needs to have, and being able to trust her with things off the court, information, getting her opinion, and she was in my office four times a week in the summer. She'd stop by and you could see her doing that and working on things.
She's become a great leader. She gets it. Her being more vocal on the floor. Her leadership skills are probably the biggest thing that we both wanted her to get better at this summer.
Q. You mentioned getting to the NCAA Tournament as your goal after winning the NIT. What will it take to get over the hump and start beating the Purdues, the Ohio States, Penn States and so on and so forth in the conference?
PAM BORTON: It's a couple things. Number one, it's playing consistent. We had a lack of consistency last year with production from players. I think we played well at home. I think we went 15 and 4 at home, but we went 1 and 9 on the road, so we've got to learn to win on the road, and that's with veteran players, veteran teams.
There were six games in the Big Ten that we lost by one or two possessions. Big Ten games sometimes are a fine line. Whether you close out three of those games, three out of the six depends on if you're eighth or fourth, and it's a fine line for a lot of teams in the Big Ten. Just being able to close out close games, learning to win some games on the road and taking care of home court. It sounds pretty simple, but it's not when you get into the Big Ten.
That's all we need to do. It's not like we've got to work our magic or throw everything that we've been doing out the window. But we just have to figure out how to close out some games and win on the road.
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