Minnesota head coach Pam Borton sat opposite senior forward Micaëlla Riché at Big Ten Media Day in October.
It was Halloween, and the Gophers were in good spirits, unaware of the struggles the season would bring.
Borton joked with Riché about what she expected from the senior in her final season as a Gopher.
“She’ll be great coming off the bench for us this year,” Borton said in a sarcastic tone.
“That better be a joke,” Riché interjected with a grin from the other side of the table.
A few months back, the thought of Riché coming off the bench was laughable.
She had just turned in a 2012-13 season averaging 13.2 points per game — second on the team. Riché also led the Gophers in rebounds with nearly eight per contest.
It’s not a joke anymore.
Riché didn’t start in Minnesota’s 85-69 win at Michigan last weekend. Instead, she came off the bench and played a team-low five minutes, chipping in just two points and one rebound.
In the Gophers’ loss at home to Iowa a week ago, Borton said Riché struggled.
She was right. Riché scored just four points and committed three turnovers in 16 minutes on the court.
Kayla Hirt, who has replaced Riché in the starting lineup, played 24 minutes off the bench in the Iowa game and registered 10 points to go along with a team-high seven rebounds.
That lineup change seemed to stem from a lack of chemistry between Riché and freshman center Amanda Zahui B. in the Gophers’ frontcourt.
While both players can rack up points and rebounds using their physical style of play, the duo has been ineffective when sharing the court with each other.
“We’re trying to find chemistry on the court,” Borton said.
Borton hinted after the Iowa game that she might alter the starting lineup in favor of Hirt, who stretches the floor with her efficient jump shot.
That appears to be what has happened.
Riché, who played center last season, was arguably the second-best player on the team behind Rachel Banham.
Then in the offseason, when Riché learned she was being moved from center to power forward, she took it in stride. She began working on creating her own shot and scoring from the high post.
“Wherever [Borton] needs me on the floor to play, I trust her decision,” Riché said at Big Ten Media Day back in October.
For now, it looks like that’s coming off the bench.