2:30 PM ET, March 21, 2004
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 anything."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 Pac-10.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."
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Team Stat Comparison
|FG Made-Attempted||29-59 (.492)||29-58 (.500)|
|3P Made-Attempted||5-18 (.278)||6-15 (.400)|
|FT Made-Attempted||18-25 (.720)||30-34 (.882)|
|Fouls (Tech/Flagrant)||23 (0/0)||20 (0/0)|