Top-ranked Tigers, Augustus visit

Louisiana State’s Seimone Augustus is the favorite for this year’s Wooden Award.

by David McCoy

Minnesota women’s basketball center Janel McCarville knows she can beat Louisiana State’s Seimone Augustus in a game of billiards – she did so at a camp last summer.

But McCarville and her teammates will have their hands full when arguably the best player in their sport has a basketball instead of a pool cue in her hands.

Augustus leads the top-ranked Tigers (8-0) into Williams Arena for a nationally televised game at 6 p.m. tonight against the 16th-ranked Gophers (7-1).

Augustus and McCarville were the top two vote-getters, in that order, in The Associated Press’ Preseason All-American poll.

While McCarville has been focused on spreading the ball around – she leads Minnesota with 4.7 assists per game – Augustus has been one of the nation’s top scoring threats, averaging 20.9 points per game.

Last year, Augustus was named NCAA West Region most valuable player as she led the Tigers to the Final Four. She was also named to the All-Southeastern Conference and Kodak All-America teams, and in 2003 she was the consensus national freshman of the year and USA Basketball’s female athlete of the year.

This year, Augustus is the favorite for the Wooden Award – the Heisman Trophy of women’s college hoops.

“It just shows the hard work I’ve done from the summer,” Augustus said. “The main thing is just to get stronger, faster and work harder.”

Minnesota, which watched Augustus top all scorers in last year’s Final Four game against Tennessee, has nothing but respect for the 6-foot-1-inch guard, who Gophers coach Pam Borton said could be a “marquee player in the WNBA right now.”

Augustus said that characterization is a dream come true.

“There’s a lot of little girls who look forward to that point, that point where they can even try out,” Augustus said. “But to be considered (like that), that’s a lot of possibilities.”

The responsibility of defending such a phenomenal player will rest on the Gophers’ top defender – Shannon Bolden.

“This is the best player Shannon’s ever guarded,” Borton said. “And I don’t know if anyone else could defend her right now. We’ll have to rest her when Seimone’s out of the game, and media timeouts and TV timeouts are things we’ll have to take advantage of.”

Bolden has been a wall on defense lately for Minnesota. In Minnesota’s last game versus Santa Clara, Bolden held its leading scorer, Ashley Graham, to zero points.

But Augustus is galaxies above Graham, and Bolden said she will be watching extensive film of Augustus in preparation for tonight’s game.

She said she’s already got some ideas.

“I can’t let her sit on it and take an outside shot, because she’ll hit it,” Bolden said. “But she’s not a great outside shooter. I’ll try to make her take more outside shots, rather than drive to the basket.”

Although it’s Bolden’s responsibility to guard Augustus and McCarville plays an entirely different position, tonight’s game in the national spotlight could turn into a showdown for national player of the year.

But McCarville said she disagrees.

“They’re not going to be able to judge an All-American at this point,” McCarville said. “It’s way too early in the season.”