CHICAGO—In his first season, Michigan women’s basketball coach Kevin Borseth made his presence heard on the national scene.
And it was loud.
“The first time we get blocked out we get called for a damn block out,” Borseth said after a 69-67 loss to Wisconsin on February 28th, slamming his fist to the podium. “We don’t block out very damn well, and we’re not getting calls. What else do you want to know?”
Borseth’s press conference rant placed in YouTube lore and put the Wolverines into the national spotlight. But at Big Ten Media Day Saturday in Chicago, he said that he regrets his outburst and hopes it doesn’t continue to define Michigan as a team.
“That outburst has changed my life,” Borseth said. “Every day I second guess what I said. I go to recruit a kid, and every time I regret it. I just want to run away because I just feel like the guy running around with the chainsaw.”
But it’s Borseth’s intensity that is changing the culture of the program.
Michigan brought in Borseth to coach after the Wolverines suffered five straight losing seasons, capped by a 10-20 campaign in the 2006-2007 season.
But with Borseth at the helm, the squad notched Michigan’s first winning season in six years with a 19-14 record, and earned a ticket to the Women’s National Invitational Tournament. The Wolverines won two games before a heartbreaking overtime loss in the quarterfinals to in-state rival Michigan State.
“He’s done a wonderful job setting a culture of, ‘This is the way we do things’,” Michigan men’s basketball coach John Beilein said. “Once you’ve created that culture, it feeds off of itself. That’s just what (Borseth) is trying to do.”
For Borseth, that means finally giving his team the tradition and identity it has lacked.
“We don’t have any tradition,” Borseth said. “And we need to build that tradition to really succeed as a program. You don’t just get that over night.”
Post presence: The Wolverines have five seniors for the 08-09 season, but the most important player on the court may be junior center, Krista Phillips.
She led the team in scoring and rebounding last year on her way to an All-Big Ten Honorable Mention.
And her performance made others around the conference pay close attention.
“She’s a strong post, and she’s so physical,” Illinois junior center Jenna Smith said. “That height advantage with her ability to shoot outside make her unlike anyone else in the Big Ten.”
This summer, Phillips worked with the coaches to improve her play with her back against the basket, a skill that draws double teams and leaves perimeter shooters uncovered.
“Will she be able to compete down low and get it in the basket?” Borseth said. “That’s going to be her biggest challenge, to establish someone in the paint that the other team needs to double team. That’s huge.”
Rejuvenating a rivalry: With a newly energized program and three nail-biters last season, the Wolverines looked to have ignited a rivalry that had since grown stale.
But the Spartans said yesterday they didn’t feel the same way.
“It really hasn’t been a big rivalry or a big game for us,” Michigan State junior forward Aisha Jefferson said. “Last year was one of the first times they’ve beat us in a long time. I’ve never been beaten by them before, so I was pretty upset about that.”
In East Lansing last year, the Wolverines’ first winning season in six years looked like it would continue with an NIT semifinals berth. And with 6:27 left on the clock in their quarterfinal game March 30th, Michigan looked to have Michigan State where they wanted them.
And then Michigan came up with nothing.
The Spartans downed the Wolverines after holding them for one of their longest scoring droughts of the season.
Despite the heartbreaking postseason loss, Michigan pulled out a victory against Michigan State last season in front of the home crowd at Crisler Arena. The win was the program’s first against its in-state rivals in six years.
The Spartans are predicted to finish ahead of the Wolverines in the preseason Big Ten coaches poll at No. 3, but Borseth says Michigan is definitely capable of playing above its No. 6 ranking.
The Spartans travel to Ann Arbor on January 15.