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Janel McCarville battles against a UConn player.

Janel McCarville battles against UConn in the Gophers' 67-58 season-ending loss.

Gophers fall in Final Four, but the memories remain

By Rick Moore

The upstart Gopher women's basketball team, making its first-ever Final Four appearance, was finally derailed Sunday evening by Connecticut 67-58 in New Orleans. The Huskies used a tenacious defense, a big edge in rebounding, and some clutch shooting by Diana Taurasi to end Minnesota's dramatic and stirring run in the NCAA tournament. As the Gophers had done throughout the previous two weeks, the Huskies answered each charge by their opponent with a rally of their own. Twice the Gophers made big moves in the second half--a 9-0 spurt to pull within 46-44 and a 7-0 run to make it 53-51--and twice UConn responded in kind. In the end, sadness and disappointment took over the faces that we have grown accustomed to seeing beaming with joy and confidence. But that end came late in the evening on April 4 in the Big Easy in front of a prime-time national TV audience, and therein lies the significance of the Gophers' mad march of the previous fortnight. By the time Minnesota and UConn tipped off at 8:30 p.m., the Gophers--who finished sixth in the Big Ten, mind you--had outlasted 61 of the 64 women's teams chosen for the NCAA tournament. In the process, they generated unprecedented media attention and support for women's basketball in the state of Minnesota. Newspapers printed special sections and sent their big-hitter columnists to Norfolk and New Orleans. TV stations filled the evening news with live shots at game-watching gatherings and special segments on the Gophers' golden run. Newcomer fans strained the bandwagon to its limits. And, perhaps most importantly, the numbers of youth wearing #13 and #4 jerseys and calling Lindsay Whalen and Janel McCarville role models multiplied again. Fortunately, Minnesota fans have more than just the solace of knowing there will be a next year--albeit the first year in the After-Whalen Era--because this batch of Gophers gave us a trunk full of memories. Here are but a few. The triumphant return of Whalen against UCLA... and the unfathomable 31 points she pulled out of her sleeve while inspiring her cast of teammates. The rain of three pointers from Shannon Schonrock in the first two games at home. The halftime scoreboard reading Minnesota 43, Kansas State 17. The scurrying feet and frenzied hands of Shannon Bolden as she handcuffed a string of high-scoring opponents. That one-armed rebound by McCarville. That no-look, behind-the-back bounce pass from McCarville to a backdoor-cutting Whalen. The countless no-look assists from Whalen to everyone. That breathtaking spin move and layup by Whalen to seal the Duke game. And, of course, the spontaneous tune and dance that followed that game when the trip to New Orleans was assured: "We beat the Dukies, yeah, we beat the Dukies!..." Indeed, they beat the Dukies, Boston College, Kansas State, and UCLA. And they earned a place in women's basketball history--and our hearts--in the process.