With McCarville gone, balanced scoring more important

Emily Wickstrom

CHICAGO – For the first time in five years, Minnesota’s women’s basketball team will be playing without a bona fide superstar.

All-American Janel McCarville and Lindsay Whalen are now gone, leaving a question mark as to who will pick up the scoring load from the now-departed Gophers stars.

And even with the loss of McCarville – Minnesota’s only graduating senior from last season – expectations for this year are, not surprisingly, high.

The Gophers were picked to finish third in the Big Ten by the coaches, and are ranked in every preseason prognosticator’s top 25.

“It’ll be a lot different than in the past,” coach Pam Borton said Sunday at the Big Ten media day. “We’ll be a lot like most teams in the nation; you don’t have that one Kodak All-American.”

But that’s not necessarily a bad thing, Borton said, because it allows the Gophers to showcase a new strength – depth.

Last season, Minnesota’s bench stretched to only six or seven players, but this year

Borton said she expects eight or nine Gophers in the regular playing rotation.

“We think we have a lot more talent than a lot of the fans and a lot of our critics might think,” senior guard April Calhoun said. “With Janel (McCarville) and Lindsay (Whalen) being here, people haven’t had the opportunity to maybe show all their talents.”

Although junior Jamie Broback, who averaged 14.4 points per game last season and was a coaches’ preseason pick for All-Big Ten, is the most likely candidate to become the Gophers’ go-to player, Borton stressed that her team’s success will depend on spreading the ball around.

“I think (Brobak)’s eventually going to grow into that role,” Borton said. “But I think right now we’re going to be winning games and doing what we do by committee. We’re playing a whole different style right now than we did last year.

“I hope to see at least four or five people in double figures. I expect a different player to step up every single game.”

Ohio State and Michigan State favorites

The rest of the Big Ten will be gunning for Ohio State and Michigan State, co-champions of the conference last season and picked to finish first and second this year, respectively.

The Spartans will sneak up on no one this season, a year after winning 33 games and falling in the national championship game to Baylor.

Although stars Lindsay Bowen and Liz Shimek are returning, Michigan State will have to deal with the loss of point guard Kristin Haynie and center Kelli Roehrig.

Therefore, Michigan State coach Joanne P. McCallie is quick to discredit any comparisons of last year’s team to this year’s.

“We’re starting over and we’ve got a brand new chemistry,” McCallie said. “I’m not going to pretend there’s any carry-over unless we get to the Final Four. But I think you’ve got to start anew. That’s a brand new team.”

Ohio State will be dominant mainly because of junior Jessica Davenport, last year’s Big Ten player of the year. Davenport led the league in both scoring and blocks.

“I hope to see continued improvement in her play, and we’re hoping to have the consistency she had last year back for this year,” Buckeyes coach Jim Foster said.

“We have a lot of talent this season, which should hopefully show through by the end of the year.”

Blossoming team in Bloomington

Like the Spartans last year, most Big Ten seasons generate a surprise team. This year’s team could well be Indiana, as first year coach Sharon Versyp takes over the program from Kathi Bennett.

Ohio State sophomore Brandie Hoskins called the Hooisers the “scrappiest team” in the conference last year.

After a ninth-place finish last season, Indiana returns 10 players, including five seniors, all of whom Versyp said will see major minutes.

“Those seniors will play,” she said. “Experience will help us. If we are a dark horse, it’s because of experience. If I took over a program that was extremely young, we wouldn’t even be mentioned.”

Preseason All Big-Ten selected

Joining Broback on the preseason All-Big Ten coaches’ team are Davenport, Bowen and Shimek of Michigan State and Katie Gearlds of Purdue.

“It’s kinda cool to hear,” Broback said. “But (Calhoun) kind of said something that made complete sense to me – ‘Now you’ve just gotta prove it.’ “

The preseason team selected by the media consists of Bowen, Schimek, Davenport and Gearlds, along with Jolene Anderson of Wisconsin.