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Feature

Two girls showcasing Final Four T-shirt at Gopher send-off rally.

Fans at the send-off rally for the women's basketball team showcase the easiest way to get Final Four tickets.

Gopher women are Final Four-bound

By Rick Moore

The Golden Gopher women's basketball team proved once and for all on Tuesday night that they belong with the very best, beating Duke 82-75 to advance to the NCAA Final Four in New Orleans. For a Minnesota sports fan, it was a game to cherish in an unforgettable postseason run. Throughout the second half of the spellbinding Mideast Regional final, the Gophers peeled away each remaining layer of doubt and disbelief that they were playing with (indeed, were outplaying) perennial power Duke--the number-one team in the country and a team that had been to the Final Four the last two years. For each flash of finesse from the Blue Devils, the Gophers responded with some Midwest moxie of their own. When Duke narrowed a 42-32 Minnesota lead to 42-40 and appeared to claim momentum, the Gophers answered with a 15-9 run. When the Blue Devils tied the score at 59, Shannon Bolden responded with the timeliest of three-pointers from deep in the corner. And when Duke made its final serious charge with about a minute remaining to again cut the lead to two, Lindsay Whalen, who was named Most Outstanding Player of the regional tournament, took the ball and game into her own hands. She drove the length of the court and split the last two Duke defenders with a slippery spin move and layup that will be shown on TV replays for years to come. That gave the Gophers a 72-68 lead, and they hit enough free throws down the stretch to polish off the team presumed to be too polished for the seventh-seeded Gophers to beat. As in its previous three NCAA tournament games, Minnesota received key contributions from everyone on the court. Whalen finished with 27 points and four assists. Bolden had 10 points and held All-American Alana Beard, the Blue Devil she was assigned to cover, to the same total. Among Kadidja Andersson's 17 points was a clutch fadeaway jumper down the stretch. And Janel McCarville, equally as outstanding as Whalen throughout the tournament, survived foul trouble to score 20 points and grab 18 rebounds. The red-hot Gophers are now poised to crash the biggest of dances next weekend in the Big Easy. Their reward for beating Duke? A not-so-big-easy semifinal date with the Connecticut Huskies, two-time defending national champions. Whereas much of America is just now learning the names of Whalen, McCarville, and Co., UConn's Diana Taurasi--two-time All-American and player of the year--and her teammates are practically household names. The Huskies, no strangers to national TV, will be seeking their fourth NCAA championship in five years. "Our work is not quite done yet," says Gopher head coach Pam Borton. "We're not going to be a team that's just happy to be there. We're on a mission. We've got two more games to play, and we're not satisfied to just play in the Final Four." The first Final Four semifinal game features Tennessee against Louisiana State at 6:00 p.m. on Sunday, April 4. Minnesota and UConn will follow at about 8:30 p.m., and the winners will meet for the national championship on April 6 at 7:30 p.m. The University's Department of Intercollegiate Athletics is hosting a viewing party Sunday at Williams Arena. Fans will be able to watch the game on four screens and take part in trivia contests throughout the evening. Doors will open at 5 p.m., admission is free, and parking will be free at the Huron parking complex east of the arena.

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