Gophers, Whalen look to improve on last season's success
MINNEAPOLIS -- Minnesota freshman Liz Podominick said she gets thrilled just watching Lindsay Whalen on the court, let alone playing alongside the All-American.
"I sit there and watch her and forget that I am supposed to be playing," Podominick said. "It is so much fun to be practicing with her."
Whalen missed out last year on preseason Big Ten Player of the Year honors to Penn State's Kelly Mazzante. But this season, coaches voted to let the seniors share the honor.
As a junior, Whalen earned Kodak All-America first team honors, was a unanimous first-team All-Big Ten selection and was a finalist for both the Wade Trophy and the Naismith Award.
Although Whalen's credentials speak for themselves, she is the first to point out that individuals don't win games -- teams do.
"I want to do whatever I can to help us be a better team but I don't look at anything individually that I need to do," Whalen said Thursday at Minnesota's basketball media day.
"It is whatever we can do to be a better team."
After posting a 25-6 overall record, defeating Stanford and advancing to the Sweet 16, the Golden Gophers begin the season with high expectations.
Coach Pam Borton said she wouldn't have it any other way.
"I want to be part of a program where there are high expectations," said Borton, who begins her second year as Gophers head coach. "That is a position I want to put ourselves in every year."
They haven't played a game this season, but Minnesota players and coaches anticipate their most successful season yet.
Borton said the team will feed off last year's 73-60 loss to Texas in the West Regional semifinal. Texas went on to the Final Four where they lost to eventual champion Connecticut.
"We learned what it takes to get there," Borton said. "We really want to go back and have an even better season."
The Gophers will be tested even before Big Ten play begins. In the past, they have entered the regular season following a soft nonconference schedule. This season, their nonconference schedule is ranked the 17th toughest in the nation, Borton said.
Matchups with teams like South Carolina and Colorado will prepare Minnesota for a competitive conference, which Borton said is the strongest in a decade.
"Anybody can beat anybody," she said.
Big Ten coaches picked Penn State as the preseason favorite, while the media chose Purdue. The Gophers were the third pick of both groups.
Minnesota adds freshmen Jamie Broback, Podominick and Kelly Roysland -- who are considered the most talented in-state recruiting class in team history.
Transfer guards April Calhoun and Katie Alsdurf aren't eligible until the 2004-05 season, but their presence in practices is sure to benefit a thin 12-player roster.
Calhoun transferred after two seasons at Iowa. Alsdurf started 49 games in her two years at Marquette and led the Golden Eagles in scoring in Conference USA action last season.
And it doesn't hurt that players -- like Whalen and junior center Janel McCarville -- have the same coach two years in a row.
Whalen, who averaged 20.6 points and 6.2 assists last season, said she was relieved that the Gophers didn't have to deal with their third set of coaches in as many years.
"We didn't have to think about it, it wasn't on our minds and we didn't have to get to know anyone new," Whalen said. "Hopefully they (coaching staff) will be around for years to come."
Lindsey Schiffler can be reached at lschiffler(at)ap.org
This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index