Filling a void: McCarville steps in

Janel McCarville has improved her play since Lindsey Whalen was injured last month.

Dan Miller

Since her freshman season, Minnesota women’s basketball junior center Janel McCarville has been better known by her teammates and coaches as “Shaq” – after the NBA’s 7-foot-1-inch Shaquille O’Neal.

“They noticed that it was hard for a lot of people to guard me,” McCarville said. “I was also a rather big girl; I have lost a lot since then. (But) the name just kind of stuck.”

And in the last few weeks, McCarville has been playing with Shaq-like dominance despite the absence of All-American teammate Lindsay Whalen, who broke her hand Feb. 12.

The Gophers struggled, going 3-4 down the stretch. However, even through the tough road, McCarville has become the Gophers’ primary scorer and literally put the team on her broad shoulders.

Last Friday, in a 58-50 loss to Ohio State, McCarville extended her game to the perimeter. She knocked down 15-foot jump shots and recorded Minnesota’s first triple-double in 20 years.

The loss to the Buckeyes in the quarterfinals of the Big Ten Tournament was bittersweet. Coach Pam Borton said it was the best the Gophers had played since losing Whalen.

McCarville also put on a show.

“She was taking shots that she hasn’t taken all year,” Borton said. “But who else is going to take them?”

Although the Gophers only reached the quarterfinals of the tournament, McCarville became the first Minnesota player ever to be named to the Big Ten All-Tournament team.

Since being injured, Whalen has watched from the bench as McCarville developed into the team’s leader over the last four weeks.

“In the last three games of the season she has taken her game to another level,” Whalen said. “There was so much focus (on McCarville) because people know obviously now we need to get her the ball.”

McCarville has been playing without Whalen for the first time in three years and it has been a big adjustment not having her on the court.

McCarville’s broad frame disguises what she is capable of doing. In the past few games, she has marveled spectators with her agility.

Against Ohio State, she recorded 10 steals as a part of her triple-double. Many of the steals came from being quicker than the Buckeyes’ inside tandem of 6-foot-5-inch Jessica Davenport and 6-foot-3-inch LaToya Turner.

After her performance against the Buckeyes, McCarville has reached a state of independence.

“I’ve learned to play without Whalen,” she said. “I can now play without her on the perimeter.”

Although Whalen is expected to play in the first round of the NCAA Tournament on March 21, the Gophers have prepared for her being out the rest of the year and her absence next season.

Borton said McCarville’s growth over the last month has made the Gophers optimistic that the roughest transition has been made. If McCarville continues the dominance she showed Friday and Minnesota adds Whalen to the lineup, the team could be dangerous in the NCAA field.

In any case, after being thrust into the spotlight, McCarville’s performance over the last month has revealed how broad her shoulders really are.