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Janel McCarville in action against St. Francis.

Senior center Janel McCarville was flying high against St. Francis, with 12 points, 15 rebounds, 3 assists, and 5 blocked shots.

A weekend of madness

By Rick Moore

Published on March 21, 2005

For sports-crazed fans and those who have to put up with them, March is mad (or maddening) enough. It doesn't take a lot of clicks on the remote control to tune in another--and then another--basketball or hockey game. For fans of Gopher sports, this past weekend's edition of "March Madness" was a dream come true, with Minnesota teams competing at the highest levels in all the major spectator sports.

Perhaps the most eagerly anticipated event was the return of the men's basketball team to the NCAA tournament--its first appearance there since 1999. The Gophers, seeded eighth in the Syracuse Regional, traveled to Charlotte, North Carolina, for a first-round game Friday against the ninth-seeded Iowa State Cyclones.

Unfortunately for Minnesota, it was one-game-and-out for this tournament. The Gophers were unable to overcome subpar shooting (33 percent from the field, 22 percent on three-pointers, and 60 percent on free throws), and lost to the Cyclones 64-53. Trailing by 10 points at halftime, Minnesota pulled to within four at 48-44 in the second half, only to see the Cyclones score the next eight points to go up 56-44. The Gophers responded with a seven-point run to make it 56-51, but that's as close as they would get. Vincent Grier and Brent Lawson scored 14 points apiece to lead the Gophers, who finished their remarkable turnaround season at 21-11.

Back in Minnesota, the local venues were buzzing with hockey and basketball action. The men's hockey team played across town in the WCHA Final Five tournament at the Xcel Energy Center but lost both its games, 3-0 to Colorado College in the semifinals on Friday and 4-2 to North Dakota in Saturday's third-place game. The good news came on Sunday; despite the weekend losses, the Gophers were awarded a No. 1 seed in the West Regional of the NCAA tournament, which they will host next weekend at Mariucci Arena. The Gophers will open against fourth-seeded Maine on March 26 at 1:30 p.m.

The women's hockey team opened its quest for a second straight national championship with a 6-1 victory over Providence Friday night in the quarterfinals of the NCAA tournament at Ridder Arena. After giving up the first goal, the Gophers used their speed to dominate the Friars, outshooting them 39-15. Minnesota's top line of Natalie Darwitz, Krissy Wendell, and Kelly Stephens, playing together for the last time at home (Stephens is a senior), combined for eight points and the usual array of highlight-reel passes. Stephens and Bobbi Ross each had two goals, and Wendell and Darwitz had three assists apiece.

The Gophers now travel to Durham, New Hampshire, next weekend for the Frozen Four. Minnesota will face off against Dartmouth on Friday in a rematch of last year's semifinal game. The other semifinal game is also the same as a year ago, with Harvard facing St. Lawrence (which upset the UMD Bulldogs in overtime on Friday). The winners will play Sunday for the national title.

And last, but certainly not least, the Gopher women's basketball team advanced to its third consecutive Sweet Sixteen by beating St. Francis of Pennsylvania (64-33) on Saturday night and Virginia (73-58) last night (March 21) at Williams Arena.

With a near-capacity crowd trying to rekindle the magic of last year, Minnesota played very well defensively in the first half against St. Francis, but could only muster a 24-17 halftime lead. After the break, however, the Gophers started clicking offensively. They opened the second half with a 12-2 run to take a 36-19 lead, and the rout was on. The 1-2 inside duo of Janel McCarville and Jamie Broback each had six points in the stretch and combined for 29 for the game.

The third-seeded Gophers trailed 20-14 in the first half against sixth-seeded Virginia before going on an 11-0 run to take a 25-20 lead. And as they did against St. Francis, the Gophers came out firing in the second half, quickly expanding a 34-28 halftime lead to 42-30. After the Cavaliers trimmed the lead to 43-38, Minnesota scored 12 points in a row--five by Broback and four by Liz Podominick--to go up 55-38 and effectively ice the game.

Minnesota had four players in double figures against Virginia, led by Broback with 23 points. McCarville and Shannon Schonrock had 11 points each, and Shannon Bolden had 10. McCarville added 14 rebounds.

The Gophers will now head to Arizona for the semifinals of the Tempe Regional. They'll face second-seeded Baylor on Saturday, March 26, and the winner will advance to the regional final on March 28.

"It's been a magical winter season for the Gophers," said Gophers athletic director Joel Maturi at halftime of the men's basketball game in Charlotte. Indeed it has, and for the women's basketball and women's and men's hockey teams, and their fans, they're hoping the magic lasts at least a couple weeks into the spring.

Stay tuned.

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