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'U' coaches and players ready to move on now

By Andres Ybarra

Associated Press Writer

MINNEAPOLIS -- The NCAA tacked two more years of probation on Minnesota for rules violations in women's basketball, leaving coaches and players relieved the team can keep playing.

"I'm excited that this is over and that this is done," said coach Pam Borton, who took the job just two months ago despite the pending sanctions. "We can move on."

Her team will forfeit a scholarship in each of two seasons and recruiting will be trimmed back under the sanctions ordered Tuesday.

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The NCAA declined to shut down the program for two seasons, which had been a possibility under the NCAA's repeat violator rule, and didn't ban the Gophers from postseason play.

"That's pretty big," star guard Lindsay Whalen said. "That will be a big weight lifted off everybody's minds."

Minnesota already was serving four years' probation for academic cheating uncovered in the men's basketball program in 1999. Tuesday's action extends the probation until October 2006.

Former coach Cheryl Littlejohn was fired before last season after a university investigation found she had given $200 to $300 to a player, bought clothes for others and encouraged players to lie to investigators.

The NCAA cited several other violations by Littlejohn, including arranging free housing for recruits in 1998 and arranging for student managers and assistants to oversee improper workouts in 1998 and 2000.

University officials had pleaded for leniency, arguing that Littlejohn actually broke the rules before October 2000, when the initial probation began. But the NCAA said Minnesota qualified as a repeat offender because of a violation in February 2001, when Littlejohn allowed a student assistant to accompany her on a recruiting trip -- well after probation began for the men's scandal.

The NCAA also banned Littlejohn's participation in off-campus recruiting from July 8 through Nov. 20 at Chicago State, where she now coaches. She's also banned from participating in the first seven days of practice this season.

"I take full responsibility for my actions," Littlejohn said.

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The NCAA said it took Minnesota's response into account, including its dismissal of Littlejohn. But the governing body said additional sanctions were necessary because of "a lack of institutional control" and the university's recent history.

The NCAA clipped one week off the time this year's team can begin practice.

"We just have to make good decisions and be smarter about what we're doing," Borton said.

Borton inherits a team that was 22-8 and reached the second round of the NCAA tournament. Among the returning starters are Whalen, the Big Ten player of the year, and center Janel McCarville, the league's top freshman.

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