3, 2, WON: Gophers advance

Dan Miller

NORFOLK, Va. – Following Minnesota’s women’s basketball team’s 82-75 victory over top-seeded Duke to advance to the Final Four of the NCAA Tournament on Tuesday night, Janel McCarville’s big arms held coach Pam Borton as the second-year coach was drenched via water cooler.

“She told us before the game we could do it if we got the win,” McCarville said. “I think everyone had in the back of their heads during the game a little picture of her soaking wet.”

The Gophers will play Sunday against Connecticut in the Final Four in New Orleans.

Minnesota has turned into the Cinderella story of the tournament as it tries to become the only team not a three seed or better to win an NCAA women’s basketball title.

“This definitely hasn’t sunken in yet,” Borton said. “This is a great moment for our program.”

The entire game, Minnesota’s players (25-8) looked like a team that was completely undaunted by playing arguably the biggest game of their careers and against the nation’s top-ranked Blue Devils (30-3).

Lindsay Whalen showed she had no fear as she ran past the entire Blue Devils team and scored a brake away layup with 56.2 seconds left, to secure the Gophers’ first-ever trip to the Final Four.

After the Blue Devils cut the lead to two points with 1:03 to play at 70-68, Whalen aggressively charged at the Blue Devils defense, as she had done all night, and scored the layup.

“We were playing to push the tempo all game,” Whalen said. “My mentality was to attack and hope to get something good or try to get somebody else something good.”

Whalen, who was named the Mideast Regional most outstanding player, dazzled the 7,860 fans inside the small Ted Constant Convocation Center twisting and turning her way to the basket for a game-high 27 points.

Whalen and the Gophers put Duke on the ropes early. After McCarville converted a three-point play, Minnesota took a 26-16 lead with 5:41 to play in the first half.

“We were very, very tight,” Duke coach Gail Goestenkors said. “Going into the game I thought we were very ready to play. But early on it appeared we were all pretty tight.”

Duke was also unable to do what no one in the NCAA Tournment could: slow down McCarville.

The Gophers 6-foot-2-inch center, who is averaging almost 20 points and more than 17 rebounds in the tournament, scored 20 points and grabbed 18 rebounds.

The Gophers as a team out- rebounded the Blue Devils 40-29.

In the first half, Minnesota held Duke, which averages an eye-popping 82.1 points per game, to just 26. The Gophers’ stingy defense seemed to have a hand in the front of every Blue Devils shot, who made only 27.6 percent of their shots in the half.

In one of the key matchups of the game, Shannon Bolden – the Gophers’ top defender – was able to hold All-American Alana Beard to only 10 points (10 below her average) and matched her with 10 points.

As expected, Duke came out after halftime with a vengeance. Duke’s 6-foot-5-inch senior perimeter player Iciss Tillis scored eight points in the first five minutes of the final period and brought Duke to within two points on a turnaround jump shot with 15:03 to play.

The Gophers were able to weather the storm even with McCarville sitting on the bench with foul trouble late in the game.

“It seemed like every time we made a run a cut it to two or tie it, they would come back and hit a huge three-pointer,” Goestenkors said. “They just made huge plays to hold us at bay.”