Gopher gold: Big 10 honors elude Cats

Andrea Cohen

Putting an exclamation point on its turnaround season, Minnesota (21-6, 11-5 Big Ten) cleaned up Tuesday when the 2002 Big Ten awards were announced.

The Golden Gophers, who placed 10th in the Big Ten last year and finished this season in a tie for second, won the awards for Player of the Year, Freshman of the Year and Coach of the Year.

Minnesota point guard Lindsay Whalen was named Player of the Year by both the coaches and the media. Whalen, who averaged 22.8 points per game, led the league in assists with 6.1 per game and was ranked among the Big Ten leaders in steals (2.44 per game), field-goal percentage (52.8), three-point shooting percentage (36.2) and assist-to-turnover ratio (1.31).

First-year Minnesota head coach Brenda Oldfield was voted Coach of the Year by her colleagues and unanimously by the media. Under Oldfield, the Golden Gophers recorded the best turnaround in Big Ten history, improving from 1-15 in 2000-01 to 11-5 this season.

Minnesota completed its trifecta of honors with Janel McCarville winning Freshman of the Year. Hitting 59.1 percent of her shots – good for second in the Big Ten – McCarville averaged 15.1 points per game. The rookie was also the third-best rebounder in the conference, averaging 8.2 boards per game.

season to remember: For the second consecutive year, Northwestern failed to win a Big Ten game but still got some recognition in the postseason voting. Wildcats center Sarah Kwasinski earned a place on the All-Freshman team and also received Honorable Mention All-Big Ten nods from both the coaches and the media.

Kwasinski, along with McCarville and Penn State’s Jess Strom, was a contender for Freshman of the Year – an honor the NU center probably had little chance of winning because of the Cats 0-16 league record.

“You’d think it wouldn’t matter,” Kwasinski said. “But it always seems to factor in – like MVP always goes to the person on the winning team. I don’t think it should.”

Cats guard Emily Butler, who sat out this season with a knee injury, was an All-Big Ten Honorable Mention selection last year.

parity redux: Big Ten coaches unanimously agree that there is parity as well as a lot of talent in their conference. They tend to disagree, however, on just how many Big Ten teams should receive NCAA Tournament berths.

Three teams – Purdue, Penn State and Minnesota – have all but clinched spots in the Tournament.

“I think the three of us are in,” Penn State coach Rene Portland said. “We all got our 18 wins and did a good job in the last 10 games.”

Beyond those three, however, Portland is not optimistic. When asked if she can see more than five teams receiving bids, she responded, “I struggle to see five.”

Michigan coach Sue Guevara thinks the league is deserving of at least five spots at the Big Dance because of its depth.

“We have the best eighth-, ninth- and 10th place teams in the country,” Guevara said. “People are looking at the fact that Minnesota comes up to second place from 10th last year. Instead of giving Brenda (Oldfield) credit for putting in a system, they say the conference has gotten weaker. It’s very unfair, because I think the conference is very, very strong.”

The Big 12 and SEC dominate women’s basketball, but Iowa’s coach Lisa Bluder said the Big Ten is the third strongest in the nation, not far behind the powerhouses.

“You have to hope they’ll take into consideration how strong our teams are from one to 10,” Guevara said. “And you can’t even count out Northwestern because they’ve been in some close games.”