I don’t normally follow college basketball. There are too many teams to keep track of, and too little continuity over the years as players graduate or go early into the pros. But good basketball is good basketball, and it’s even better when a local team you can root for is playing well, so I’ve happily jumped on the M’sota Gophers bandwagon, following Janel McCarville and Lindsay Whalen on their impressive run through the NCAA tournament.

Watching these two play off of each other is sort of like watching an imaginary team in which Tim Duncan and Allen Iverson play together. McCarville has a fantastic high-post game, with great passing ability, the strength to back down her defender, and the speed to put the ball on the floor and go around her. Whalen, meanwhile, possesses all of AI’s fearlessness and uncanny body control, which allows her to break down defenses and get to the basket at will; unlike Iverson, Whalen also has teammates that are worth giving the ball up to, which lets her show off her own deft passing touch. Behind these two players, Minnesota left a wake of higher-seeded teams behind them on their way to the Final Four.

Happily, I got to see the Gophers play on a big movie screen at the Riverview Theater, along with 700 very partisan fans. Sadly, they lost to the Connecticut dynasty tonight, 67-58. Minnesota was done in by UConn’s razor-sharp offense, and by their own inability to box out — they were out-rebounded 34-22, unusual for a team that had dominated the boards throughout the tournament. But they kept it close throughout, forcing the Huskies to bring their “A” game to finish them off. Overall, the whole affair was fast-paced, not sloppy (each team had 14 turnovers, but they were mostly forced by good defense), full of highlight-reel-worthy plays, and exciting down to the last few seconds. And that’s all I really ask for out of a basketball game, no matter who’s playing.