No All-American? No problem for Gophers

Updated: November 3, 2005, 9:46 PM ET
Associated Press

MINNEAPOLIS -- New season, same old question for the Minnesota Golden Gophers.

A year ago, the Gophers were being asked about how they were going to go on without All-American Lindsay Whalen, who was drafted by the WNBA.

This time around, they are being asked how they will recover from losing All-American Janel McCarville, the top pick in last summer's WNBA draft.

But the Gophers might be more prepared than ever to sustain losing such a talented player. Last year, they had to play for three weeks in the preseason without their leader while McCarville recovered from an injury.

Once she returned, McCarville got into foul trouble early and often, forcing her teammates to play huge chunks of minutes while she watched from the bench.

"The first time around, it was like, 'What are you going to do without Whalen?' '' senior guard Shannon Schonrock said Thursday at the team's media day. "And we showed what we can do without her.

"This year we knew it was going to be, 'What are you going to do without your All American?' We have a better feel for what it's going to be like because last year we experienced it when Janel was out with foul trouble.''

With Whalen playing for the Connecticut Sun, the Gophers advanced to the NCAA Tournament's regional semifinals in Tempe, Ariz. They lost to eventual national champion Baylor and return this year with six seniors that expect a more balanced offensive attack.

"It's definitely going to be more equal opportunity,'' coach Pam Borton said. "You're going to see a more balanced scoring team instead of just one or two superstars on our team. I think that makes our team extremely dangerous when we've got six or seven kids that can put up double figures on any given night.''

Schonrock and Jamie Broback are Minnesota's top two returning scorers, but there is plenty more where that came from.

Shannon Bolden, April Calhoun and Liz Podominick are also capable offensive players.

"That's kind of one of our strengths is how much depth we have,'' Broback said. "I think that's just a major benefit to us that we don't have that one go-to player where, if she falls down, we don't have anyone to look for.''

And without 'Shaq' in the low post, the Gophers figure to play a more up-tempo game, relying on the quickness of their perimeter players to create fast breaks.

"Probably last year we weren't so much of a transition team because obviously we needed to get No. 4 some touches inside,'' Borton said. "But I think you're going to see a lot more transition from us this year, a lot more attacking the basket, a lot more attacking from our guards and the perimeter.''

It will be the first time in three years the Gophers haven't started the season with a preseason All-American, something Borton actually is excited about.

"It's been nice having a superstar on your team the last three years,'' she said. "I think every coach in the country would love to have an All American on the team. But most teams in the nation do not have a Kodak All-American. I think we're just like every other team now.''

The biggest key to any success the Gophers will have this year is the inner confidence the team has that it can, in fact, get the job done without big No. 4 in the middle.

These Gophers have done it before.

"Some people might think that now we don't have the All American on our team that it may be different, that we won't make it as far,'' Broback said. "But we're not looking at what people from the outside are saying.

"Our main strength with our team is knowing what we can do. It really comes down to what our team is expecting of each other -- that's settling for nothing. Our team doesn't have any reason not to be great.''

Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press