(7) Minnesota 82

(25-8, 9-7 Big Ten)

(10) Duke 75

(30-4, 15-1 ACC)

    7:00 PM ET, March 30, 2004

    Ted Constant Convocation Center, Norfolk, Virginia

    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 flowing.

    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 Orleans.

    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 been.

    "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 her."

    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 outset.

    "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 win."

    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 process.

    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 run.

    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 50-44.

    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 57-55.

    "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."

    Copyright by STATS LLC and The Associated Press


    Team Stat Comparison

    Points 82 75
    FG Made-Attempted 26-51 (.510) 25-54 (.463)
    3P Made-Attempted 6-15 (.400) 3-8 (.375)
    FT Made-Attempted 22-27 (.815) 23-31 (.742)
    Fouls (Tech/Flagrant) 20 (0/0) 20 (0/0)

    Game Leaders

    PointsL. Whalen 25M. Currie 21
    ReboundsJ. McCarville 15M. Currie 9


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