La Velle E. Neal III
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Linda Roberts compares the Big Ten tournament to a bus tour. Every team boards a bus, travels through the host city and arrives at the arena to present entertaining basketball.

This week, the buses pull up to Target Center.

In the latest showcase moment for women's basketball in the Twin Cities, all 14 conference teams come to town for the conference's women's basketball tournament beginning Wednesday.

"It's a great opportunity for the Twin Cities after hosting the NCAA finals," said Roberts, a Gophers Hall of Famer who still owns the school's career rebounding record. "Hopefully we can pack the arena because it's great to have great players all under one roof."

The tournament comes less than a year since the women's Final Four was held on the same court — a pivotal event in that it was the first after a gender equity report revealed how little the NCAA invested in the women's tournament compared to the men's, leading to change.

This tournament also comes a few weeks after the best women's professional players came to town for Team USA workouts in advance of the next international tournaments. It's been a good run for women's hoops in this area, not including Lindsay Whalen's efforts to resuscitate the Gophers program.

The tournament starts the same day as the latest class of the Minnesota Sports Hall of Fame is inducted on Wednesday at the Mall of America, With a nod to the tournament being held in town, the entire 10-person class has Big Ten ties.

And there's a subset of that group in Roberts, Carol Ann Shudlick-Smith and Katie Smith, all basketball stars in their day. And there are a couple of connections among this terrific triumvirate.

Shudlick-Smith starred at Apple Valley before spending 1990-94 with the Gophers. Roberts' career ended with her as the school's career leading scorer, but Laura Coenen and then Shudlick-Smith passed her (Roberts currently ranks sixth). Roberts was working for the U when Shudlick-Smith played there, but she wondered during a phone interview last week if Roberts remembered her.

"Yeah, when she broke my record," Roberts said. "I remember her."

Roberts then laughed.

Shudlick-Smith, who lives in the Chicago suburbs with a husband and three kids, was stunned to learn she was being inducted.

"I couldn't believe it," she said. "I'm such a has-been. Who's still giving out these awards? I was so honored that [the Hall of Fame] has been revived. It's quite amazing. It was like 30 years ago."

The bonus for Shudlick-Smith is that she's being inducted with Katie Smith — a former adversary on the court whose brother, Tom, she married. Smith was a force, once owning the Big Ten career scoring record, men's or women's, when playing for Ohio State. She played with Shudlick-Smith for one season with the Columbus Quest of the ABL — when Tom met Carol Ann — and later played seven seasons with the Lynx, once scoring a league-record 46 points in a game.

Both are fiercely loyal to their contemporaries. Shudlick-Smith pointed out she played with Lisa Leslie and Rebecca Lobo. Smith, currently a Lynx assistant, plainly said, "I'll put the players I played with up against these guys."

But Shudlick-Smith watches Big Ten hoops from the Chicago area, and Smith lives in Columbus, Ohio, during the offseason. The strength of the Big Ten has impressed them.

"What is so amazing is the excitement generated by the Big Ten women's teams, specifically Iowa and Indiana," Shudlick-Smith said. "Caitlin Clark at Iowa is lights out. There's no question she should be at the top of player of the year candidates."

There recently were seven Big Ten teams listed in the AP Top 25 women's basketball poll. Indiana entered last weekend on a 14-game winning streak before a buzzer-­beating three-pointer from Clark propelled Iowa to an 86-85 victory Sunday. There are only three men's teams from the conference ranked in the Top 25. The Twin Cities has the better tournament this year.

So while Roberts, Shudlick-Smith, Katie Smith and others are recognized for their contributions to the Big Ten, the best players and top teams in the conference will be showcased at Target Center.

"There is a huge fan base there for women's basketball," Katie Smith said. "For them to have another major event for them to show off what great basketball there is there, is unreal."

Roberts, Shudlick-Smith and Smith will be inducted into the Star Tribune Minnesota Sports Hall of Fame during a ceremony Wednesday evening at the Mall of America. More information about that free event is here: