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College Basketball: Gophers hire VCU’s Stollings to replace Borton

By Marcus R. Fuller

St. Paul Pioneer Press

MINNEAPOLIS — Marlene Stollings hadn’t met fans or even her players yet, but they all gave her a standing ovation while singing “Minnesota Rouser” as she walked into the Williams Arena club room to be officially introduced Tuesday.

Stollings just smiled, seemingly humbled by the show of support.

Then the new Gophers women’s basketball coach wasted no time setting lofty goals for a program that hasn’t reached the NCAA tournament for five straight years, which led to former coach Pam Borton’s firing.

“Our goal will always be to go to the NCAA tournament,” said Stollings. “We want to be playing into the second weekend of the NCAA tournament. We want to give our young ladies an opportunity to play in the Final Four again. We will have very high expectations of what we want this program to do on a national level.”

Stollings, who has a six-year contract that will pay her $425,000 a year, has never been in the NCAA tournament during her four seasons as a head coach — the past two at Virginia Commonwealth, plus the season before that at Winthrop.

VCU, like Minnesota, played in the NIT this year. But that was a big improvement for the Rams, who went 22-10 after winning only 11 games the season before.

The Gophers, who reached the Final Four in 2004, had a disappointing ending to Borton’s 12th and final season by coming close but failing to get to their first NCAA tournament since 2009. They finished 22-13.

All-Big Ten players Rachel Banham and Amanda Zahui B. will return to join a recruiting class that includes state player of the year Carlie Wagner.

Banham said all of the recruits are on board with Stollings. The senior-to-be was excited to hear about a fast-paced playing style and how much her new coach emphasized opportunities for immediate success.

“She’s offensive-minded, and I’m the most offensive-minded person there is,” said Banham, who led the Big Ten with 23 points a game this season. “This year, we were so close. We were just about right at the edge of making it. So why not set another goal of not just making it but making it further. I think that’s definitely something we can do.”

College basketball and WNBA analyst Debbie Antonelli has known the Gophers’ new coach since Stollings played her first two college seasons at Ohio State in the early 1990s.

Antonelli said Stollings wouldn’t have left VCU for Minnesota to inherit a rebuilding project.

“Minnesota has great talent,” Antonelli said. “Rachel Banham and (Amanda) Zahui can really play, and there are good pieces around them. What Marlene can do is take those pieces and put them in an up-tempo style that will feature both those kids’ skill sets. Not only can Marlene get them in a system to succeed offensively, she will help prepare Rachel for her WNBA career as well.”

Stollings’ VCU team set a school record with 75.8 points per game (36th nationally) and 235 three-pointers this season. Minnesota averaged 68.7 points per game and made 194 three-pointers.

The nickname for her high-scoring offense was “Fury” with the Rams.

“I certainly think we have the pieces of the puzzle in place to put the system in place,” she said. “It takes a little bit of time to adjust to, but that will happen in the preseason. We will certainly be ready to showcase it come November.”

Stollings’ style of play has been attractive to recruits, so she hopes that will help persuade the state’s top prospects to stay home.

“I know that many of those young girls grow up wanting to stay home and play here,” she said. “That should not change. They should be dying and counting down the days until they can get here. And that’s the environment that we want to foster here.”

Stollings had one of her VCU assistants, former Ohio State star Nikita Lowry Dawkins, in attendance to show support Tuesday. But the coaching staff hasn’t been selected yet.

Borton’s assistant Kelly Roysland, a former Gophers player, will be considered because of her Minnesota connections.

“We will certainly be open-minded to that,” Stollings said. “At the end of the day, we want to hire the best available person for the job, regardless of anything else. But we will certainly take into careful consideration people that have Minnesota ties.”

The Pioneer Press is a media partner with Forum News Service.