There was a high-level basketball game played in Minnesota Tuesday night, yet, strangely, there were no pyrotechnics, no designated scream-during-every-timeout guy and no TV timeouts.
It was old-school basketball bliss. All the Gopher women’s basketball team provided was a fast pace, skilled guards, an excellent pep band and the latest reminder that this year the program is trying to wake the echoes.
Lindsay Whalen attended the game, and Rachel Banham praised Carlie Wagner in a recorded message on the Williams Arena scoreboard before the opening tip.
The Gophers had won seven of their past eight. Indiana had won seven in a row. Both teams were playing for NCAA tourney consideration, and if that wasn’t enough to generate emotion, the Gophers celebrated senior night on the occasion of their last home game.
Wagner would score 34 points and leave the court shedding the wrong kind of tears. The Gophers entertained but lost 82-70 in front of an announced crowd of 3,477, misfiring from the three-point line and collapsing in the fourth quarter.
“Just a lot of emotions, being my last game here,” Wagner said. “This is my home away from home. So not exactly the way I wanted to go out, but I’m still very appreciative of the fans coming out tonight and supporting us.”
Wagner reached 2,106 career points, moving her past Carol Ann Shudlick and into third place on the all-time scoring list behind Banham (3,093) and Whalen (2,285).
The program reached its heights of popularity during Whalen’s career. She and Janel McCarville, and a team that reached the Final Four, prompted the women’s games to be moved from the Pavilion onto the big stage of Williams Arena, and during the NCAA tournament they packed the place.
The crowd on Tuesday was louder than you would have expected, and even Gophers football coach P.J. Fleck attended, a day after speaking to the team.
He may even have used the “E” word to describe their play.
Yes. Entertaining, and perhaps damaging to their NCAA tournament hopes.
“I think that we’ve got a very quality résumé,” Gophers coach Marlene Stollings said. “And as I said, Indiana is playing well right now. But we’ve got a lot of work to do. You can’t relax when you have a couple of big wins.”
You can’t misfire, either. Wagner made two of her 10 three-point shots … and was by far the most accurate Gopher. The rest of the team went 0-for-12 on three-pointers.
Wagner left in the last minute, with the game out of reach. The New Richland native had taken the court before the game with her family to celebrate her career; after the game she sat on the bench and, in an interview broadcast to the arena, was asked for a final thought.
“Thank you,” she said as the fans cheered. “This is the reason I chose to stay home.”
The Gophers rank third in the nation in scoring, behind only UConn and Baylor. Junior guard Kenisha Bell pushes the pace and gets into the paint whenever she likes, and Wagner is closing out one of the great careers in program history.
They will play their final regular-season game Sunday at Illinois, then compete in the Big Ten tournament in Indianapolis.
Whalen predicted that Wagner will catch her in scoring. That may be a long shot, but Wagner doesn’t think her career is close to ending.
“My career here is the most amazing experience,” she said. “I picked this place for a reason. It was because of the fans, and the school and the team and the coaches and everybody. It’s been an amazing ride and it’s not over. It’s far from over. Trust me.
“We’re going to put in the work and go way farther than people expect us to. I’m just so thankful and blessed. I can be sad, but I’d say I’m most thankful and blessed for my opportunities that I’ve had here.”