Nonconference schedule proving quite a bit rockier this season

by David McCoy

Four games into the nonconference season, Minnesota’s women’s basketball team has been traveling a bumpy path.

Apart from wiping up Arkansas State 82-45 and controlling UNLV throughout a victorious 77-69 result, Minnesota has not been steamrolling its opponents as in years past.

The Gophers (3-1) lost their first nonconference game since Nov. 23, 2001, on Nov. 15 at Washington, 72-67 in overtime.

And they nearly choked Saturday against Virginia Tech, allowing a 30-6 lead to dwindle to 11 points before pulling out a 70-56 win.

Out of that bunch, the Hokies are the only team that made it to the NCAA Tournament last year, with the other three competing in the Women’s National Invitational Tournament.

Arkansas State lost in the first round, Washington in the second and UNLV took second place.

So when Gophers coach Pam Borton said she’s not expecting an easy game against defending Women’s NIT champion Creighton on Sunday in Omaha, Neb., she’s obviously not just giving typical coachspeak.

“They’re quite a bit different than last year,” Borton said. “They’ve lost a couple of starters, but they’re still very good at home. This is not going to be an easy win.”

The Bluejays were the Gophers closest nonconference win outside of the NCAA Tournament last year at 82-71.

Creighton also averages only approximately one home loss per year.

After such a strong start to her season, much of Minnesota’s hopes for being that one home loss are resting on sophomore Jamie Broback, who is averaging 20.5 points per game through Minnesota’s first four games – two of which were without All-American Janel McCarville.

“Obviously, I’m off to a pretty good start,” Broback said. “With (McCarville) out, our whole team had to step up, and that gave me and other people on our team confidence.”

McCarville has been wearing two different colors of tape on her hand while it heals – white for practice, to remind her teammates, and brown for games to add concealment.

“With white tape, it’s kind of easy to make it a point to bump it or something,” McCarville said. “It’s just for practice.”

McCarville also said she is looking to get more involved in the team’s scoring attack after a double-double Saturday against Virginia Tech.

After a double-double – 20 points, 10 rebounds – herself, Creighton’s Laura Spanheimer is this week’s Mountain Valley Conference player of the week and the Bluejays’ most dominating scorer.

But two-time conference player of the year Christy Neneman and all-time three-point leader Dayna Finch have now graduated, meaning Minnesota will be facing quite a different team.

With that in mind, the Gophers are hoping their first bus trip of the season will not be a dead end.