McCarville set to return as Gophers welcome trio to town for tournament

David McCoy

Minnesota’s women’s basketball team probably doesn’t need any help in this weekend’s Subway Classic – a tournament the Gophers have won the last four years in a row, including beating Colorado 95-61 and Southern 92-41 last year.

And it’s not like Minnesota will be hosting the cream of the crop this time either when Arkansas State, Valparaiso and Virginia Tech come to Williams Arena.

But on top of that, Minnesota All-American center Janel McCarville is set to start her first game since the Gophers’ 67-58 loss to Connecticut in last year’s Final Four when the Gophers tip off for their home opener at 8 p.m. tonight at Williams Arena against Arkansas State.

Valparaiso and Virginia Tech play right before that. Then on Saturday, the winners play for the championship and the losers play for third place.

Regardless of which game it’s in, Minnesota’s game Saturday is scheduled for 8 p.m.

McCarville, who had her first full practice Wednesday after recovering from a broken bone in her left hand, will only have her hand taped for the game, said she doesn’t consider re-injuring her hand a concern.

“You’re going to get bumped and pushed around,” McCarville said. “But I don’t think it will bother me too much.”

McCarville and coach Pam Borton said the amount of time McCarville plays will depend on her conditioning.

With McCarville back in the lineup, Minnesota will focus even more on getting the ball inside, and Borton said she will be inserting new plays specially designed for McCarville.

“But everyone’s still got to have a scoring mindset,” forward Jamie Broback said. “Not just one person.”

McCarville’s teammates said knowing she will be back in the lineup will give the whole team a boost.

“We’re really uplifted,” point guard Shannon Schonrock said. “(McCarville) just has a presence about her on and off the court. She just has a huge presence and swagger.”

Gophers’ opponents

Although they aren’t the toughest nonconference teams in the country, the strength of Minnesota’s Subway Classic opponents has improved each year.

Arkansas State won a share of the Sun Belt Conference title and lost in the first round of the Women’s National Invitational Tournament last year.

Valparaiso made the NCAA Tournament last year, and, although it lost in the first round, is favored to win the Mid-Continent Conference this year.

After its seventh-straight 20-win season, which culminated in a first round win at the NCAA Tournament, Virginia Tech is projected in the middle of the pack in its first year in the Atlantic Coast Conference.