Just a few weeks into the season, you could already tell Minnesota’s women’s basketball team was sick of being asked.
Almost every inquiry on the topic produced rolled eyes and an obviously rehearsed response.
But now, finally, the Gophers can rest assured getting asked the question, “What will you do without Lindsay Whalen?” is a thing of the past.
Well almost, anyway.
As far as the regular season is concerned, the 15th-ranked Gophers (22-6, 12-4 Big Ten) have answered the doubters.
This year’s Big Ten mark of 12-4 not only bettered last year’s 9-7 but also tied a 16-game team record.
“Our kids accomplished a lot this year,” coach Pam Borton said. “With all the doubt that people had with, ‘How well is this team going to do without Lindsay Whalen?’ I think we really made a statement.”
Now, the only thing left for the Gophers to prove is whether they can continue that success into the postseason, which begins today at 1:30 p.m. against Purdue in the Big Ten Tournament in Indianapolis.
Fourth seed Minnesota beat the fifth-seeded Boilermakers (16-11, 9-7) by at least 20 points twice this season and once with limited minutes from All-American Janel McCarville at Purdue.
“I don’t think I got minutes registered,” McCarville said. “But the team was able to come out without me and play that good of a game, and that right there bolstered a lot of confidence for them.”
But that is certainly no indication the Gophers will have it easy this time.
The Boilermakers have won the Big Ten Tournament both of the last two years and will have somewhat of a home-court advantage, as Conseco Fieldhouse is just about an hour from West Lafayette, Ind.
In fact, Borton said she thinks winning the Big Ten Tournament could be even more difficult than winning the NCAA Tournament.
Indeed, some of the toughest teams in the nation hail from the Big Ten.
Ohio State (27-3, 14-2) and Michigan State (25-3, 14-2) are both frontrunners for No. 1 seeds in the NCAA Tournament, and the team that does better at Big Tens will likely get the nod.
As for the Gophers, even with Whalen, they’ve only won one Big Ten Tournament game in the last three years.
So in the post-Whalen era, the Gophers will need a full team effort to get through the tough field and improve on past performances in Indianapolis.
“I don’t think it’s just one person alone,” forward Jamie Broback said. “I think the main reason we’ve stayed successful is because everyone has been stepping up. Everyone has been doing their role just a little bit better than they need to.”
On Thursday, Wisconsin beat Indiana 75-74, Illinois beat Northwestern 66-43 and Iowa beat Michigan 70-42. Should the Gophers advance, they would face the Buckeyes or Badgers.
Borton a finalist
Borton was named one of 20 finalists for the Naismith women’s coach of the year award Thursday.