All eyes on No. 2 Wildcats

No. 7 Minnesota faces high-octane Kansas State tonight in the NCAA 2nd round.

by Dan Miller

Talk was still circulating Monday afternoon about Minnesota’s women’s basketball team’s first-round NCAA Tournament win and Lindsay Whalen’s spectacular return.

But even Sunday, as young fans waited for autographs outside the locker room after the Gophers’ 92-81 victory over UCLA, Minnesota coach Pam Borton was preparing for Kansas State.

“We’ve been preparing since I left Williams Arena (Sunday) night and watched film until late (Sunday) night and all day,” Borton said Monday.

The seventh-seeded Gophers will be underdogs as they clash tonight against the second-seeded Wildcats at Williams Arena.

So what is Minnesota’s strategy? Attack.

Playing on their home court in front of 12,000-plus friendly fans, the Gophers won’t be afraid to play tough against the high-powered Wildcats. All-American center Nicole Ohlde, who scored 25 points against Valparaiso on Sunday, will be the main target of the Gophers’ barrage.

“I am going to have to be physical with her,” Gophers center Janel McCarville said. “I have to take away her strengths Ö and she has a lot of them.”

Borton said McCarville is at her best when she is aggressive and takes the ball strong at defenders. And she said that goes for the entire Gophers team.

“That’s just the way we go out and play the basketball game,” Borton said. “(Kansas State) is a very tough team with a lot of experience. They play in a very tough conference in the Big 12 Ö we have to just go out there and play our basketball game.”

Even with the disparity of the seeds in the tournament and Kansas State’s caliber, the 24th-ranked Gophers are hoping their home court will be an equalizer.

It also doesn’t hurt that Whalen, their leading scorer, is coming off a 31-point game in her highly anticipated return from a hand injury.

“Seeds at this point don’t really mean a whole lot. You see a lot of lower seeds beating higher seeds,” Whalen said. “(And), obviously, it’s an advantage to be at home.”

Against UCLA, Whalen was able to drive inside the lane and attack the basket that ignited an aggressive Gophers attitude.

McCarville responded, coming alive in the second half Sunday, and was able to work her way inside to get point-blank baskets.

In what will be a definite pro-Minnesota crowd at The Barn tonight, the Gophers will not be scared to initiate the high-powered and higher-ranked Kansas State.

Wildcats coach Deb Patterson said she wasn’t surprised by the Gophers’ attacking style and 92 points against UCLA on Sunday.

“I know we are going to play a great team, that’s the reality,” Patterson said. “That game was that game, and this game will take its own form Ö I think it’s going to be a great basketball game.”