The Michigan women’s basketball team returns from its break tonight, and Janel McCarville will be there to welcome them back.

McCarville, Minnesota’s accomplished senior center, stands in the Wolverines’ way as the team looks to snap its eight-game losing streak against the Golden Gophers. Michigan has had eight days to regroup but needs to come out strong if it wants to compete with McCarville and No. 12 Minnesota (4-1 Big Ten, 14-3 overall) in Williams Arena tonight.

McCarville — a first-team All-American last year — possesses a rare combination of both size and athleticism. The 6-foot-2 McCarville leads the Big Ten in both rebounds (10.3 per game) and blocked shots (2.79 per game), and she ranks among the top 15 in six other categories. McCarville’s 14.9 points per game make her the only player in the conference averaging a double-double.

“I think she’s very rare,” Minnesota coach Pam Borton said. “Even those kids that we’re looking to recruit out of high school, there’s not kids like Janel McCarville. I think she’s one- of-a-kind.”

Michigan (0-5, 4-12) will most likely entrust freshman Ta’Shia Walker with the task of covering McCarville. Walker performed admirably when trying to contain Ohio State center Lindsay Davenport — a player with similar size and athletic ability to McCarville –— in the Wolverines’ 84-56 loss to the Buckeyes last week. But if the last game is any indication, and Michigan employs a collapsing defense on McCarville as it did against Davenport, the Wolverines could be in some trouble. Davenport was able to find open shooters on the perimeter in last Tuesday’s game, and McCarville — who averages 4.13 assists per game, good enough for third in the Big Ten — should have no problem dishing the ball to her teammates either.

“With McCarville being such an incredible passer it does create a lot of problems,” Michigan coach Cheryl Burnett said. “Any team tries to help down and in on her, she definitely finds the outside scorers.”

On the receiving end of McCarville’s passes will be the Golden Gophers’ sharp-shooting tandem of juniors Shannon Bolden and Shannon Schonrock, who come into the game ranked first and third in the Big Ten in 3-point shooting percentage, respectively. Michigan must do a better job keeping these two in check from behind the arc than it did against Ohio State’s Caity Matter, who hit eight of her 11 shots from downtown in her team’s victory.

“Both Ohio State and Minnesota have such a nice combination of outside threat, inside threat and then you add dribble penetration to that,” Burnett said. “It is very difficult to come up with a game plan to shut one thing down because they can always counter with something else.”

The Wolverines require more than just an improved defensive effort against Minnesota. Michigan’s offense has been stagnant recently, shooting a combined 32.2 percent in the team’s last two games. Walker — averaging 14.2 points per game — needs to continue to solidify the team’s presence in the offensive paint. The Wolverines will also look to senior Tabitha Pool to carry the spirit of her 16-point second half against Ohio State into Williams Arena tonight.

A renewed offensive effort will be no easy undertaking against the Golden Gophers. Minnesota sports the third-best defense in the Big Ten, allowing 52.5 point per game. The Golden Gophers showcased exactly what their defense can do last Thursday against No. 24 Purdue, surrendering just 38 points to the Boilermakers.

Although it appears Michigan will have its hands full against Minnesota, Borton says her team is in no way looking past the Wolverines.

“I think what we expect is a very competitive Big Ten game,” Borton said. “Cheryl’s always got her team out ready to play hard and to compete.”

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