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More will fall on McCarville's shoulders

MINNEAPOLIS -- Janel McCarville didn't just dunk the ball.

"She threw it down,'' teammate Shannon Schonrock said.

She didn't throw it down in Sunday's victory over UCLA. She threw it down in pregame warmups.

"Twice,'' said McCarville, the 6-foot-2 center on the University of Minnesota women's basketball team. "I usually dunk in warmups.''

Never in a game, though. Not yet, anyway.

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McCarville would be thrilled if she had a dunk in tonight's NCAA tournament game against Kansas State, especially seeing as how the Wildcats' center, Nicole Ohlde, is 6-feet-5 and one of the best players in college women's basketball.

"It would be awesome,'' McCarville said.

McCarville's play from here on out will affect how far the Gophers go, and I'm not just talking about what's left of this season. She is the Gophers' second-best player. Next season, she becomes their best because Lindsay Whalen will have graduated.

McCarville is a fine center. She can score points and snatch rebounds and block shots. But she can't bring the ball up court. She can't run the offense. She can't slither past three players for a reverse layup. She can't drain one three-pointer, then another, and another. She can do a lot of things on a basketball court, but she can't be Lindsay Whalen.

Imagine the Timberwolves without Kevin Garnett. Whalen means that much to these Gophers.

"I'll miss her,'' McCarville said. "Everybody is going to miss her.''

But life goes on. Gophers coach Pam Borton isn't going to board up the program just because she has lost the kind of player who comes around once every few generations.

There is life after Lindsay Whalen. The question is, how bleak will it be?

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The Gophers got a glimpse of life without Whalen when she was out 51⁄2; weeks with two broken bones in her right hand. It was like George Bailey seeing what life was like without him "It's A Wonderful Life.'' It wasn't the prettiest of sights.

The Gophers went 3-4 without Whalen. And they probably would have lost to UCLA in Sunday's first-round NCAA tournament game if she hadn't played. They need to enjoy this tournament run, no matter how long it lasts. With Whalen gone, they may not have the chance next season.

The Gophers, of course, would like to think otherwise.

"When Lindsay was out, Shaq was the It,'' Schonrock said, calling McCarville by her nickname. "Shaq will continue to be our go-to player.''

"We took it as a learning experience when Lindsay was out,'' McCarville said. "When Whalen went down, it prepared me a little bit. We grew as a team without her.''

There is more growing to do.

Borton will have to retool her offense. It has been constructed around Whalen. Next season, it will be configured to take advantage of what Schonrock can do, and Shannon Bolden, and Kelly Roysland, who started when Whalen was hurt. And there are two transfers who have been working out with the Gophers all season, April Calhoun, who started at Iowa, and Katie Alsdurf, who started at Marquette. They could help, but neither was a big-time scorer.

Borton also landed four heralded high school players, including Hopkins' Leslie Knight, who averaged 19 points and nearly nine rebounds a game. The thing is, it is tough for freshman to be anywhere near as dominant as they were in high school, something the likes of Roysland, Liz Podominick and Jamie Broback found out this season.

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"I hope,'' Borton said, "that our team has as good a team chemistry next year as this one does.''

It will, if Borton finds a lab somewhere that can whip her up another Lindsay Whalen.

Bob Sansevere is a sports columnist with the St. Paul Pioneer Press.

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