- Nancy Lieberman, Basketball analyst / Writer
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After 37 minutes against the nation's No. 1 team, Janel McCarville had to be exhausted. But her heart has no limits.
And, apparently, neither does her 6-foot-2 frame.
With her team trailing by single digits late against LSU last month, McCarville figured time was running out for her Minnesota Golden Gophers. And so, while the rest of her teammates retreated downcourt after LSU grabbed a defensive rebound, McCarville focused on denying the outlet pass.
That meant, however, that McCarville, the hulking senior center, match up against 5-3 Temeka Johnson, the speedy LSU point guard and waterbug nearly no one can keep up with.
But somehow, McCarville did. She got in tight, chest to chest with Johnson, and then matched her step for step. And when the ball was delivered, McCarville intercepted. The steal was impressive, but the gorgeous pass that followed was even better.
Turns out, the ensuing shot didn't fall, and Minnesota (13-2) ended up losing, 75-67. LSU's Seimone Augustus scored 22 points and Johnson tallied her 15th career double-double with 18 points and 13 turnovers.
But that one sequence from McCarville -- who finished with 13 rebounds and a career-high 31 points -- was easily the most enjoyable highlight of the game.
And that's what is so great about McCarville, who might be one of the game's most deceiving players. She boasts the size of a traditional post, as well as the footwork of a dancer. She has the body of an intimidator and also possesses the finesse and passing skills of a point guard. And in all my years, I have never seen a traditional post pass the basketball like her.
Much like Wayne Gretzky's passes, which led you to where you should be, McCarville picks the perfect spot to place the ball. Her precision puts it just past the defender's head -- so close, in fact, that the defender thinks she can deflect the ball. But the pass from McCarville -- who grew up playing ball with her brothers in her family's barn in Wisconsin (family legend has it that she once dunked so hard on the hoop that she tore it off the chimney of the chicken coop) -- is just out of reach.
McCarville's passing is just an absolute beauty, and she's averaging 4.2 assists on the season. No other post in college basketball can pass like that. Even the great Bill Walton averaged 3.6 assists in his collegiate career at UCLA.
McCarville's feet are equally impressive, and part of that not only is her physical abilities (as in being nimble enough to keep up with Johnson) but also the intelligent way she uses her body. Most good posts these days can ball fake, step through or drop step to score.
But McCarville, who has shed 50 pounds since her freshman season, has multiple moves in her arsenal. She drives you to a spot, then can pin you and spin; if you recover, McCarville will step through. She had LSU's Tillie Willis -- an exceptional defender, by the way -- running around like a ping pong ball and overcommitting throughout last month's game.
Defensively, McCarville's incredibly smart, stays low and bends her knees and forces you into a poor position.
And that, of course, has helped Minnesota into a great position. The Golden Gophers have won 12 of their last 13 games. The schedule gets a lot tougher this week -- Purdue on Thursday and Michigan State on Saturday -- as the Big Ten race heats up. But you can bet McCarville will be battling to the end.
Nancy Lieberman, an ESPN analyst and Hall of Famer, is a regular contributor to ESPN.com's women's basketball coverage. Contact her at www.nancylieberman.com.
15dBonnie D. Ford