Roman Augustoviz spends Minnesota's winters covering college hockey, specifically the Gophers, and other University of Minnesota sports. During the summer, he writes about the WNBA's Minnesota Lynx, with a dose of U sports sprinkled in. Follow him on Twitter @RomanStrib.
There are 64 spots in the NCAA women's basketball tournament. Thirty-two are filled by automatic qualifiers, 32 by at-large picks. The Gophers, obviously, hope to get one of the latter.
As for the automatic bids, 25 have been decided. Seven will be in the next few days. Conference USA still has its quarterfinals to be played.
The Atlantic Sun, Mid-Eastern, Mountain West, SWAC and WAC has semifinals on its docket and the Northeast has just the championship game.
Here is a list of teams, in alphabetical order, who have earned spots in the NCAA women's basketball tournamen by winning their conference tournaments or, in Penn's case, its regular-season conference title ... or in the case of seven conferences still playing, the favorite is listed:
Albany (N.Y.), America East, 28-4, 15-1
Army, Patriot, 24-7, 14-4, tied for second behind Navy
Baylor, Big 12 Conference, 29-4, 16-2, tied for first with West Virginia
Bowling Green, Mid American, 27-3, 17-1
Cal State-Northridge, Big West, 16-14, 12-4
Chattanooga, Southern Conference, 29-3, 18-0
Colorado State, Moutain West, 24-6, 15-3, in conference semis Fri.
DePaul, Big East Conference, 27-6, 15-3
Florida Gulf Coast, Atlantic Sun, 24-7, 17-1, in conference semis Sat.
Fordham, Atlantic 10 Conference, 25-7, 11-5, second to Dayton
Gonzaga, West Coast Conference, 29-4, 16-2
Hampton, Mid-Eastern Athleric Conference, 26-4, 16-0, in conference semis Fri.
Idaho, WAC, 23-8, 15-1, in conference semis Fri.
Indiana State, Missouri Valley, 19-10, 14-4, tied for first with Wichita State
James Madison, Colonial Athletic Association, 25-5, 15-1
Marist, Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, 27-6, 18-2, tied for first with Iona
Middle Tennessee, Conference USA, 26-4, 15-1, in tournament quarterfinals Thurs.
Nebraska, Big Ten Conference, 25-6, 12-4, third behind co-champs Penn State and Michigan State
North Dakota, Big Sky, 20-9, 19-5, tied with Southern Utah for first
Notre Dame, Atlantic Coast Conference, 32-0, 16-0
Pennsylvania, Ivy League, 22-6, 12-2, regular season champions, no tournament in Ivy
Robert Morris, Northeast, 20-11, 14-4, in conference final vs. St. Francis on Sat.
South Dakota, Summit League, 19-13, 7-7, fourth in conference
Southern Cal, Pacific-12 Conference, 22-12, 11-7, tied for fourth
Stephen F. Austin, Southland, 19-11, 13-5, tied for first with Lamar
Tennessee, Southeastern Conference, 27-5, 13-3, tied for second behind South Carolina
Texas Southern, SWAC, 19-11, 15-3, second behind Southern University, in conference semifinals Fri.
UConn, American Athletic Conference, 34-0, 18-0
UT-Martin, Ohio Valley Conference, 24-7, 15-1
Winthrop, Big South Conference, 24-8, 15-5, second behind High Point
WIsconsin-Green Bay, Horizon Conference, 21-8, 13-3
Arizona State coach Craig Nicholson was getting some tough questions after the No. 3-rated Sun Devils lost two games on Sunday, the first to the Gophers 3-2.
"We are not putting all three parts of the game together," said Nicholson, the first-year ASU coach whose team lost to Ball State 3-0 later on Sunday. That's his former team. "We didn't hit like we normally hit. You can't take anybody for granted."
Certainly not the Gophers, even though they come from the land of ice and cold. The No. 19 Gophers, with ace Sara Moulton on the mound, rallied to beat the Sun Devils with three runs in the sixth inning off ASU's ace.
That makes Jessica Allister's club 15-2, which is the best start in program history and the best record of any team in the Big Ten. One loss was to No. 1 Florida in a rout, the other was to Florida International 3-1 on Sunday in the U's first game.
But the Gophers bounced back from that second loss quickly. Facing All-America pitcher Dallas Escobedo -- 30-6 last season with a 2.32 ERA -- they tied the score 1-1 in the sixth on Kaitlyn Richardson's run-scoring double. Then multi-talented freshman Sara Groenewegen, hitting cleanup, drilled a two-run single for a 3-1 lead.
And against ASU -- a team which has played in six of the past eight College World Series, more than any other program in that stretch, including a trip last year, all three parts of the Gophers' game was clicking.
Moulton improved to 10-1 in the circle. She pitched a four-hitter, struck out eight and got out of a huge jam in the bottom of the sixth. ASU had closed to within 3-2 and had runners on third and second with nobody out.
But on a ball hit to Moulton, she started a double play as the runner from third tried to come home. The ball went to the catcher, then to third for a tag and one out. Then Richardson threw to second base and caught the runner there.
The Gophers, at the plate, got seven hits, including four they bunched together in the sixth.
This is a team that wants to be where the Sun Devils are at. And Sunday's win over ASU was a big step in that direction.
Illinois and Nebraska finished 1-2 in the Big Ten women's indoor track and field meet a year ago, separated by three points, 115 to 112. It was the closest battle for the indoor title since 2002.
The Gophers were a distant seventh with 56 points.
The Maroon and Gold isn't considered a title treat this year either but could win several individual titles and maybe a relay or two.
Last year Illinois took first in five events and second in two others. Penn State and Purdue are the only Big Ten teams in the U.S. Track and Field and Cross Country Coaches national team computer ratings. The Nittany Lions are No. 11, the Boilermakers No. 17.
Alena Brooks of the Gophers has the top seed times in the 600- and 800-meter runs, 1:28.57 and 2:04.90. ... She was fifth in the 600 last year.
Molly Kayfes is the second seed in the 5,000 (16:19.12), Liz Berkholz the fourth (16:31.86) and Laura Docherty the seventh. ... Docherty and Kayfes took second and third in the 5,000 last year, respectively.
Jess Heraut has the third best total in the indoor pentathlon (4,008), Megan Geyen is the fifth seed in the 400 (54.41) and Katie Murgic is the sixth seed in the pole vault (13-2 1/4).
The Gophers' distance medley is seeded second, the 4x400 relay third. The 4x400 took fourth a year ago -- 22 hundreths of a second off the school record -- and three of those runners are members of the relay again: Geyen, Te 'Shon Adderly and Brooks. The new member is Titania Markland. They set a new school record this year of 3:38.10 in the Bill Bergen Invitational in Ames, Iowa.
Back on May 19, 2010, then-AD Joel Maturi, so often criticized when he was in that position, did something right.
He let softball co-coaches Lisa Bernstein and Julie Standering go. Under them the Gophers had fallen on hard times.
The 2010 team was 16-37 overall and a dismal 2-17 in the Big Ten. He said there would be a national search for their replacement. Bernstein had coached the team since 1992 and Standering, an assistant, was promoted to co-head coach in 1997.
It seems Gophers officials hired the right person to succeed the duo.
Jessica Allister became the sixth coach in program history -- Bernstein and Standering were counted as two -- in 2011. She was an Oregon assistant at the time and, before that, an All-America catcher at Stanford.
She has led the Gophers to three solid 30-win seasons, and Minnesota might have its best team ever this season.
Throught 13 games, Allister's team is 12-1, that's the program's best start ever. The loss? That was an ugly 15-2 blowout in six innings two weekends ago. It came to unbeaten and No. 1-ranked Florida, 17-0.
But this weekend, the Gophers get another shot at an elite team. They play in Louisville Slugger Classic in Tempe, Ariz. And their fifth opponent there on Sunday is No. 3-ranked Arizona State (17-0).
So the Gophers will have another shot to make noise in the polls.
They also play three other teams that could be a challenge. Here is the lineup:
Friday: Detroit (2-7) and South Carolina (13-2)
Saturday: Ball State (7-2) and Florida International (12-4)
Sunday: Arizona State.
The Gophers are 10-3 all-time against their first four opponents, 3-10 against the Sun Devils.
Here is the Gophers' record in Allister's four season:
2011 31-24 9-11
2012 31-22 10-14
2013 36-19 14-6 ... third in Big Ten, advanced to NCAA regional for first time since 2003
2014 12-1 ---- ... best nonconference mark in Big Ten
So what makes the 2014 Gophers tick?
1. They have an ace, Sara Moulton. The senior has or soon will have nearly every pitching record in program history. She recently went over 1,000 in career strikeouts. Moulton is 8-1 with a 0.92 ERA and seven shutouts this season. In 53.1 innings, she has 76 Ks, more than any other pitcher in the league.
She has 93 career wins, 98 complete games and 42 shutouts -- all program records -- and has five no-hitters, including one this season which ties another Gophers career record.
The Gophers lead Big Ten teams in strikeouts with 119 as a team and are fourth in ERA at 1.96.
2. These Gophers can hit, too, especially the batters at the top of the order. Leadoff hitter Tyler Walker, the shortstop, is hittting .439 with two doubles, three triples and a homer. She has 12 RBI and her 29 total bases put her fifth in the conference. No. 3 hitter Kaitlyn Richardson is hitting .417 with four doubles, two homers and a team-high 14 RBI. Cleanup hitter Sara Groenewegen, also the Gophers' No. 2 pitcher as a freshman, is hitting .325 with four homers and 10 RBI.
The Gophers are fifth in the conference with a .305 average and have the most homers, 14.
3. Minnesota can field. Its fielding percentage is .971, third in the Big Ten.
The Gophers have received NCAA bids only eight times: 1988, '91, '96, '98, '99, '02, '03 and '11. Their record in NCAA tournament play is a modest 8-16.
They have won Big Ten regular-season titles only three times: They were co-champions in 1986 and won outright titles in 1988 and '91. So Minnesota's golden era was about 25 years ago.
The Gophers' only Big Ten tournament title came in 1999.
In the USA Today softball rankings this week, the Gophers are No. 19, behind only two Big Ten teams, No. 6 Michigan and No.16 Nebraska.
Rachel Banham of the Gophers is one of 30 players up for the Naismith Trophy. The junior point guard from Lakeville has some good statistics but, based on recent history, she had no chance of winning it.
The reason? Her team isn't that good.
The Gophers, even after a three-game winning streak, are only 16-9 overall and 5-6 in Big Ten play, which puts them in seventh place.
Banham, for the most part, has done about as much as she can for Minnesota. She leads the Big Ten in scoring, averaging 22.1 points per game. Leads the conference in three-point shooting, 47.3 percent, and is tied for the most threes made, 69. She has scored 20 points or more 15 times.
But she plays on what looks like an NCAA bubble team unless the Gophers can stay on their current roll.
Naismith Trophy winners, in contrast, play on teams that win conference and national titles. To wit:
Eight of the past 14 winners have played on NCAA championship teams. One was on an NCAA runner-up and three others on Final Four teams.
The two times a Naismith Trophy winner wasn't on a Final Four team were in 2013, when Brittney Griner won the award for a second time after leading Baylor to the NCAA title the year before, and in 2007 when Lindsey Harding of Duke won it. The Blue Devils were 32-2 that season but were upset by Rutgers in a regional semifinal.
Here is a look at the recent Naismith Trophy winners since 2000:
2013: Brittney Griner, Baylor ... Bears were 34-2 but were upset by Louisville in regional semifinal.
2012: Griner. ... Led Baylor to NCAA title.
2011: Maya Moore, UConn ... Huskies lost in Final Four
2010: Tina Charles, UConn ... Led Huskies to NCAA title
2009: Moore. ... Led Huskies to NCAA title
2008: Candace Parker, Tennessee ... Led Lady Vols to NCAA title
2007: Lindsey Harding, Duke ... Led 32-2 team
2006: Seimona Augustus, LSU ... Tigers lost in Final Four
2005: Augustus ... Tigers lost in Final Four
2004: Diana Taurasi, UConn ... Led Huskies to NCAA title
2003: Taurasi ... Led Huskies to NCAA title
2002: Sue Bird, UConn ... Led Huskies to NCAA title
2001: Ruth Riley, Notre Dame ... Led Irish to NCAA title
2000: Tamika Catchings, Tennessee ... Lady Vols lost in NCAA title game
The field of 30 candidates will be narrowed to four finalists in March. The Gophers have had two players make that short: Lindsay Whalen in 2003 and '04 and Janel McCarville in 2005.
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