Gophers on Golden run to Final Four

NORFOLK, Va. (AP) -- Alana Beard never envisioned her college
career ending like this: Coming out of a game with 4.6 seconds left
and walking into a sad embrace with coach Gail Goestenkors, tears

The three-time All-American's last chance to win a national
championship ended with another disappointment Tuesday night when
Lindsay Whalen and Minnesota beat Duke 82-75 in the Mideast
Regional final.

Tuesday, March 30
Minnesota is on a run and is a very confident team. And for good reason. They knocked off the Nos. 1, 2 and 3 seeds in the Mideast Region to get to the Final Four.

What has happened at Minnesota is one of the best stories in women's basketball ever. Here's a team made up mostly of Minnesota kids who believed in themselves despite the coaching turmoil that affected the program.

The Twins Cities fans have responded, and the sport has "won over'' a whole new state. It's just a tremendous testament to these players, led by Minnesotan Lindsay Whalen.

Back in mid-February after she broke her hand, I wrote that I hoped the "Human Superball'' bounced back as quickly as possible. Has she ever. And you could say the injury benefited the Gophers, because her teammates had to take on extra responsibility and learn things about themselves during the seven games she was out.

But, obviously, the player of the tournament for Minnesota has been Janel McCarville. And if she's not handcuffed by the officiating in New Orleans, she will be a handful for Connecticut.

Of course, the Huskies are the Huskies. They know what they're doing. The game against Minnesota probably will be decided on how well UConn defends; the Huskies shut down another Big Ten team, Penn State, in the regional final.

Beard was apologetic but stoic later.

"I just had an off night," she said after going 4-for-14 and
scoring 10 points. "It happens. That's life. You've got to deal
with it."

The seventh-seeded Golden Gophers got 27 points from Whalen and
20 points and 18 rebounds from Janel McCarville to complete an
improbable run to its first Final Four.

Minnesota, which already had bounced second-seeded Kansas State
and third-seeded Boston College, will next face Connecticut in New

Attacking from the start and playing with the cool of a team
with nothing to lose, the Gophers put Duke on its heels early and
never let up.

"Coach (Pam) Borton said the most aggressive team was going to
win and that's the way we've played all year," Whalen said.
"Tonight we just got a few things to go for us and we just played
loose and played together."

For Beard, the only thing missing from a great career will be a
national title.

Her senior class won 126 games, four consecutive Atlantic Coast
Conference titles and went to two Final Fours.

"You can't really put it into words," Beard said of the end.

Iciss Tillis, Duke's other star senior, also came up with a
disappointing effort in her final game.

"You guys don't understand how it feels to go out there every
single year thinking you're going to win the national championship
and it doesn't go your way," an emotional Tillis said. "It hurts.
It's really painful."

The Gophers had a lot to do with it, especially Whalen, the most
valuable player in the regional, and McCarville, who could have

"She's a playmaker," Beard said of Whalen, who was 9-for-21
from the field.

"She made the big plays when it counted," Beard said.

Beard covered Whalen part of the time, but no one contained her.

"She took it to us," Goestenkors said. "We knew she was
driving left 99 percent of the time and we still couldn't stop

Duke (30-4) had reached the Final Four the last two seasons, but
lost in the semifinals both times. After dismissing that pressure
was a factor beforehand, the Blue Devils showed otherwise from the

"Going into the game I thought we were very ready to play, but
early on I thought it appeared we were all pretty tight,"
Goestenkors said. "It's sometimes easier to be an underdog and
just go out and play and understand that nobody expects you to

Minnesota (25-8) fit that description. It had never passed the
round of 16 in three previous NCAA tournaments. Now, the Gophers
will be the lowest seed to play in a Final Four since No. 9
Arkansas in 1998.

Minnesota led most of the game, by as many as 10, but didn't
flinch when Monique Currie's layup with 5:33 left pulled Duke even
at 59.

Working the ball around, the Gophers found Shannon Bolden in the
left corner, and her third 3-pointer of the half pushed the lead
back to three.

Duke answered with two free throws by Currie, but McCarville hit
both ends of a one-and-one, drawing Tillis' fourth foul in the

Beard again pulled Duke within a point with a driving basket,
her first field goal in 16 minutes and only fourth in the game, but
the Gophers scored the next five points, the last two on a gorgeous
feed that McCarville dropped behind her back to a streaking Whalen
for a layup.

Beard hit a free throw, Currie hit a 12-footer and Lindsey
Harding followed a free throw by McCarville to again pull Duke to
70-68 with 1:03 left, but Whalen scored again and the Gophers
converted 10 of 12 free throws in the last 49 seconds to keep Duke
from making it close again.

"This definitely has not sunk in yet," said Borton, in her
second season with Minnesota.

Kadidja Andersson added 17 points and Bolden 10 for Minnesota.

Currie led Duke with 19 points.

The Gophers led 42-32 in the second half when Tillis and Duke
finally started clicking. Tillis hit two free throws and a layup,
Brittany Hunter hit a jumper and Tillis added a bank to cap an 8-0

Undaunted, Whalen hit McCarville with a no-look pass for a
layup, one of her four assists, Andersson scored in the lane and
Whalen fed Andersson through traffic for another layup, making it

The Blue Devils again pulled within one at 50-49, but Minnesota
scored seven straight before Duke scored six in a row to get within

"They hit every big shot," Goestenkors said. "It seemed like
every time we made a run and cut it to two or tied it, they'd come
back and hit a huge 3."