Whalen's return sparks Gophers past Bruins

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -- The only evidence of Lindsay Whalen's long
layoff was the beige brace she wore to protect her right hand.

Her return to Minnesota's starting lineup was seamless, and her
performance superb.

Whalen scored 31 points in her first game in more than five
weeks, leading the Gophers to a 92-81 victory over UCLA in the
first round of the NCAA tournament Sunday.

"It was just so good having her back," said Shannon Schonrock,
whose 15 points were all from 3-pointers. "She didn't lose

Janel McCarville added 19 points and 17 rebounds for
seventh-seeded Minnesota (22-8), which plays Tuesday in a
second-round Mideast Regional game against No. 2 seed Kansas State.

Whalen, 12-for-14 from the foul line, also had nine assists. All
she offered afterward was a typical shrug.

"I've played a million games," Whalen said, "and this was
just a game."

Nikki Blue scored 20 of her 33 points after halftime for the
Bruins (17-13) before fouling out in the final minute, her
quickness helping keep UCLA stay competitive on Minnesota's home
court in front of 12,357 loud fans.

Down the stretch, the game basically boiled down to a battle
between the two star guards. Blue tied it at 79 on shot in the lane
and a free throw with 1:30 to go. Whalen answered with a twisting
layup of her own to give Minnesota an 81-79 lead, and Blue missed
her next shot to give the Gophers possession before fouling Whalen
and sending her to the line.

Whalen made two free throws to increase the lead to four with
41.1 seconds remaining. After Quinn missed a 3-pointer from the
corner, the game turned into a free-throw clinic.

A fall against Ohio State on Feb. 12 broke two bones in her
shooting hand, kept her out for more than five weeks, contributed
to the Gophers' 3-4 finish and ultimately cost them a better seed.

The school's all-time leading scorer, Whalen has helped
resurrect the program from an 8-20 record her freshman year to a
third consecutive NCAA tournament appearance this season.

In a sparkling sequence midway through the first half, Whalen
stole the ball from Blue late, raced the other way for a fast-break
layup, got fouled and made a free throw.

Blue answered with a 3-pointer, and then Whalen did the same on
the other end.

Jogging back, Whalen wiggled her right hand in the air, glancing
at the fans as if to say, "I'm fine."

"I wasn't even thinking about the hand, to be honest," she
said. "Just trying to get the crowd in it."

Bruins coach Kathy Olivier was amazed.

"The crowd was on it immediately," she said. "I was like,
'Are you kidding me?' That kid's got some power. But that's what
great players do."

Lisa Willis and Noelle Quinn each added 15 points for
10th-seeded UCLA, a young, athletic team that finished third in the

The Bruins fell behind 54-43 after a three-point play by Kadidja
Andersson with 14:59 left. They didn't have the brawn to move
McCarville around in the middle, but they made a game of it with
their ability to dribble and penetrate deep in the lane. A 16-4
surge gave them the lead back midway through the second half, and
it was close the rest of the way.

"We made a few more plays than they did in the second half,"
Gophers coach Pam Borton said. "We've got to play a little better
defense on Tuesday night."

Whalen was a huge boost, but Minnesota was victorious because it
had balance: McCarville, Schonrock and Andersson, who scored 14
points on 6-for-9 shooting. Freshman Jamie Broback had six points
and four rebounds off the bench.

"The one thing that Whalen does is create for so many other
people," Schonrock said. "She really makes everyone else on the
court better, and that's her best attribute."