Minnesota Golden Gophers
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RECORD: 21 - 8
REGION: Mideast SEED: 7
COACH: Pam Borton CONFERENCE: Big Ten
Road to the Final Four ...................................................................................
Janel McCarville is a marvel, but the Gophers just aren't the same without Lindsay Whalen. Yes, they are hard workers who are fun to watch, but Whalen provides the pizzazz that makes the team go. With her ability to put together a line such as 25 points, nine assists and four steals on any given night, Whalen's one of the most irreplaceable players in the country. If she is not able to return, or play at 100 percent, that might be too tough to overcome.
|PLAYER TO WATCH|
If you haven't seen Lindsay Whalen play yet, shame on you ... especially because this probably isn't the best time to catch a glimpse of the All-American, who has missed the last seven games since suffering a broken hand. And that's exactly why McCarville probably has a bigger impact on the Gophers right now. The 6-foot-2 junior center is a guaranteed double-double (15.6 points, 10.1 rebounds) and one of the nation's toughest players in the paint -- not to mention extremely accurate (62.1 percent from field). Still, McCarville might not be enough. Despite a fantastic performance in her last game -- a triple-double of 23 points, 11 boards and 10 steals, and six assists -- the Gophers got ousted in the Big Ten quarterfinals and haven't played since March 5.
ANALYSIS BY ESPN'S STACEY DALES-SCHUMAN
After getting off to an unbelievable start and looking like a potential Final Four challenger, Minnesota had a bad wave of luck. Senior scrapper Lindsay Whalen broke two bones in her right hand during a fall in a game on Feb. 12. Following that game, an 18-point loss, the Golden Gophers went on to lose three of their final six regular-season contests -- certainly not what coach Pam Borton & Co. had in mind.
Though Whalen is expected to return for the NCAA Tournament, her team has wilted without her. The Gophers have dropped in nearly every national statistic category they were previously ranked in, and lost games they should have won.
Junior center Janel McCarville, also known as "Shaq" to the people of Minneapolis, has had to pick up the slack. She's averaging a double-double with 15 points and 10 rebounds, but it's her ability to dish the ball that has become a thing of beauty. Besides McCarville, Minnesota needs sophomore point guard Shannon Schonrock to step up and create more opportunities for others while running the offense.
But in reality, Minnesota's tournament run must be a collective effort. Freshman guard Kelly Roysland has stepped up, averaging 10 points as a starter. The Golden Gophers need production like this from a number of bodies to temporarily compensate for the absence of Whalen's 21 points and five assists.
Ironically, losing Whalen just didn't hurt Minnesota from an offensive standpoint. The Gophers' typical full-throttle defense, one that Borton has already made a staple in the Gopher program, just didn't showcase its typical level of intensity toward the end of the season.
Bottom line? Despite all of this, Minnesota will rise like Popeye when Whalen returns -- a little dose of spinach never hurt anyone. The things that Minnesota does well -- attacking the open court offensively, breaking down teams off the dribble to score high-percentage shots in the paint and generating stops at the defensive end -- will all pick up as Whalen, a true sensation, fully returns to the lineup.