A deep dive into dynamic Gopher twosomes

Photo courtesy of Twitter Lindsay Whalen and Janel McCarville as Lynx

A dynamic duo, especially in basketball, isn’t like Batman and Robin or Blondie and Dagwood in the comics, but rather like offensive bookends for their team.

We recently did a deep dive into the U of M’s record books for the Gophers women’s hoops’ all-time dynamic twosomes, based on: 1) number of years as teammates, and 2) combined points totaling at least 1,000 points. These player pairs are, in descending order:

No. 7 – Kiara Buford (612 points) and Ashley Ellis Milan (665), totaling 1,277 points (2008-10). NOTE: This duo is one of two pair of Gopher teammates who were also high school teammates (St. Paul Central)

No. 6 – Linda Roberts (884) and Debbie Hunter (584), totaling 1,468 points (1975-81). NOTE: This was pre-NCAA and three-point shots years.

No. 5 – Rachel Banham (914) and Carlie Wagner (606), totaling 1,520 points (2015-16).

No. 4 – Laura Coenen (1,007) and Molly Tadich (726), totaling 1,733 points (1983-85).

No. 3 – Shannon Loeblein (1,036) and Cara Pearson (1,030), totaling 2,066 points (1991-95). NOTE: Only six points separate the school’s longest-tenured duo, who also played together at St. Paul Harding.

No. 2 – Banham (936) and Amanda Zahui B. (1,135), totaling 2,071 points (2013-15). NOTE: These two might have scored more had Banham not gotten hurt and played only 10 games in 2014-15.

No. 1 – Lindsay Whalen (1,860) and Janel McCarville (1,323), totaling 3,183 points (2001-04). NOTE: The duo led Minnesota to its only Final Four appearance (2004); both were recruited and signed by the school’s second Black head coach, Cheryl Littlejohn.

McCarville’s jersey joins Whalen’s in the rafters

Photo courtesy of U of M Lindsay Whalen and Janel McCarville as Lynx

Last Sunday McCarville became only the seventh Gopher woman basketball player with her jersey now officially hanging in the Barn’s rafters. She is the fourth among these women that this longtime beat reporter covered during their careers along with Banham (2017), Whalen (2005), and Carol Ann Shudlick (2003). They join Coenen (1985), Debbie Hunter (2009), and Roberts (2006), the St. Paul native and first Black female Gopher so honored.

“Janel came in my sophomore year as a free-spirited, fun-loving person,” Whalen recalled of McCarville. “Instantly we gravitated toward each other. She read the game so well, her passing and her ability to read the next play like a point guard.”

McCarville said of Whalen, “We clicked from day one. That’s what made us have that special bond.”

“We were both like point guards out there,” now-Gopher Head Coach Whalen said, “and we could see what’s going to happen as it was unfolding before it happens. I think the basketball court really brought us together and allowed us to create that bond in real tough, crucial moments. We fed off each other.”

The heady point guard and the free-spirited post player together had a three-season NCAA run that included a Sweet 16 spot (2003) and national semifinals (2004). Whalen and McCarville didn’t win a national college title, but they later reunited and celebrated a WNBA championship together in 2013 as Minnesota Lynx teammates.

“She is one of the smartest players, men’s or women’s that ever played the game,” Whalen added. “I think in some aspects her passing at times was overshadowed. I think at times our fans really loved the [half court] screens she would set and the offensive rebounds.”

McCarville said, “We’re not selfish people. We looked to do whatever was best for this team. I do believe that was one of the reasons we were as successful as we were.”

“She deserves it,” Whalen said of McCarville’s forever-retired jersey. “I’m really, really proud of her and happy for her.”

“She is one of my best buddies,” McCarville said of her former teammate and lifelong friend. “I’m glad she [helped] put me in the rafters.”