Women’s hoops faces Texas-sized challenge next

Aaron Blake

Texas coach Judy Conradt knows a lot about women’s college basketball. This much can be assumed just by glancing at her 815 career wins, hall-of-fame plaque and the 1986 national championship banner hanging from the rafters at the Frank Erwin Center.

So one must listen when she says sixth-seeded Minnesota is a very similar team to her second-seeded Longhorns.

The Gophers (25-5) collide with Texas (27-5) at 8:30 p.m. Sunday in Palo Alto, Calif., in the round of 16 in the West regional of the 2003 women’s NCAA tournament.

“They’re a lot like we are,” Conradt said. “They like to get after you on the defensive end and try to create offense off of their defense.

“There are some similarities without question.”

Among these similarities include the teams’ defensive and offensive styles, balanced attacks, three-point shooting, number of losses and long winning streaks.

But while the Gophers capitalized on a weak non-conference schedule to win their first 12 games and finished the regular season with seven straight, the Longhorns rolled through almost the entire Big 12 season and postseason with a current 15-game streak and No. 5 national ranking to show for it.

So in order to advance to the Elite 8 and face Louisiana State or Louisiana Tech, Minnesota might break a rope of wins even more impressive than Stanford’s 26-game home streak which the Gophers broke Monday.

Minnesota coach Pam Borton knows her team must hit the boards to achieve such a feat. The Longhorns are 11th in the nation, averaging nearly eight more rebounds than their opponents.

Leading the charge for Texas are 6-1 center Stacy Stephens and 6-2 forward Heather Schreiber. Each average over 13 points and eight rebounds per game.

“They send all five players to the boards,” Borton said. “I don’t think they shoot the ball well overall. So they rely on second and third shots.

“We’ve just got to play the kind of post defense we’ve played the past two games.”

In the first two rounds of the tournament, Tulane’s Teana McKiver and Stanford’s Nicole Powell were held largely in check and got into serious foul trouble against the physical Gophers.

Borton also says that because much of the offense goes through Stephens, a strategy similar to the one that held the Green Wave to 48 points is needed versus Texas. Unlike Tulane, though, Minnesota needs to pay attention to the Longhorns on the perimeter, where they shoot 40 percent as a team – good for third in the nation.

Borton will use Kadidja Andersson on Schreiber and Janel McCarville on Stephens.

“(Stephens) is very, very talented,” Borton said. “I think she’s a lot like Janel. She has great hands, gets loose balls, and rebounds well.”

With their third straight defensive challenge at the center position, McCarville and Borton know a big and physical Big Ten season will have served the Gophers’ inside players well.

So when faced with the presence of Stephens, McCarville doesn’t feel the need to adjust in any noticeable way.

“I’m going to play my game,” McCarville said. “I’m not going to do anything different than I have all year. I’ll just go in confident.”

McCarville’s brand of confidence is what any team needs to defeat a perennial powerhouse like Texas. Luckily for Borton, her young Gophers seem to already have it, and Texas is just the next step for a team that started overachieving Monday.