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Whalen's best is yet to come

MINNEAPOLIS -- Believe; it or not, Lindsay Whalen can play better.

During Tuesday night's NCAA Division I women's Mideast Regional second-round game at Williams Arena, the Minnesota senior didn't shoot nearly as well as usual, nor as well as in Sunday's game when she returned from a 51⁄2-week; absence due to broken bones in her right hand.

She even made a couple of uncharacteristic mental errors, pushing the ball to the basket on a 1-on-2 break and fouling far from the basket with less than a second left in the first half.

But that's nit-picking. Aside from 2-for-9 shooting from the field, Whalen's numbers were all strong: 10-for-10 on free throws, seven rebounds, nine assists, two steals. Some of the assists were highlight-reel caliber.

And then the category that doesn't show up in the box score: leadership. The presence of Whalen's steady hand helped the rest of the Gophers play with real force, as they beat No. 8-ranked Kansas State 80-61 to advance to the Sweet Sixteen in Norfolk, Va. Sunday.

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Talk about force, how about Janel McCarville? Going head-to-head against national player of the year finalist Nicole Ohlde of K-State, McCarville was incredible. By halftime she had 10 rebounds, all on the defensive end, and held Ohlde to four points the first 14 minutes, by which time Minnesota led 29-11.

McCarville played like her nickname "the Shaq of college women's basketball," and we can't expect that every night.

But as the Gophers advance to the region semifinals against Boston College, they know Whalen has yet another gear. She missed several spinning, twisting driving shots while being fouled, but believe it or not, she usually makes a few of those every game.

And her teammates will play their best with her out there.

Craig Swalboski is the sports editor of the Post-Bulletin. He can be reached at swalbo@postbulletin.com

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