Strong support spurs Gophers

Shannon Bolden and Kadidja Andersson were the Gophers’ other stars Tuesday.

Dan Miller

Minnesota women’s basketball coach Pam Borton explained Wednesday how important the Gophers’ unsung heroes have been in advancing to the NCAA Tournament Final Four for the first time in school history.

“Our supporting cast is the reason we are still playing,” Borton said.

Like the rest of the 64 teams that participated in the tournament, the Gophers have their stars.

Lindsay Whalen and Janel McCarville have exploded in the last four games and have been arguably the most potent one-two punch of the 2004 tournament, which concludes this weekend in New Orleans.

But what has separated the Gophers from the rest of the field in their historic run has been the timely performances of their role players.

“We are always going to have great games from Janel (McCarville) and (Lindsay) Whalen,” Borton said. “But you can’t get to the Final Four if your supporting cast isn’t showing up and producing for you.”

In their latest victory over Duke, the nation’s top-ranked team, the Gophers received career performances from sophomore Shannon Bolden and senior Kadidja Andersson.

Bolden, in a crucial matchup, held All-American Alana Beard to just 10 points on 4-of-14 shooting from the field.

She was also the answer for the Gophers offensively, hitting three timely three-pointers when it appeared Duke was going to pounce. She finished with 10 points.

Andersson, who shared some of the responsibilities guarding Beard, scored 17 points in the game and grabbed five rebounds.

She was able to fill a void in the second half when McCarville had to sit out with foul trouble. Andersson hit turnaround jump shots and outshined Duke’s versatile 6-foot-5-inch All-America candidate Iciss Tillis.

Borton wasn’t afraid Wednesday to say how important Bolden and Andersson have been to the Gophers’ success in the tournament.

“Those two kids are the reason we are playing in the Final Four,” Borton said.

Sophomore point guard Shannon Schonrock has also proven invaluable for the Gophers in the tournament. She scored 15 points against UCLA in the first round and 14 versus second-seeded Kansas State on March 23.

As the bottom of the Gophers’ lineup continues to step up in tournament games, all the pieces are falling into place at the right time.

“They seem to be hitting on all cylinders right now,” Duke coach Gail Goestenkors said after being upset by Minnesota on Tuesday.

The Gophers will need this momentum as they prepare for the two-time defending national champion Connecticut on Sunday.

The Huskies, who have won the national championship four of the last five years, feature player of the year candidate Diana Taurasi, who scored 27 points against Penn State in the East Regional final game.

Borton said there is no doubt as to whom she will assign the role of guarding the Huskies star.

“I don’t think that it’s a secret,” Borton said. “Everyone in the whole country knows Shannon Bolden will be guarding Taurasi.”

On Sunday in New Orleans, it will continue to be the Gophers’ behind-the-scenes play that will make the trip down the Mississippi River worthwhile.

Barn Notes

Whalen, who scored 27 points in the Gophers’ victory over Duke on Tuesday and over-shadowed Beard, did not make the latest cut for the first-ever Women’s Wooden Award, which honors the top women’s college basketball player in the country.

Those making the latest cut include Beard, Taurasi, Penn State guard Kelly Mazzante, Stanford forward Nicole Powell and Purdue forward Shereka Wright.

The finalists will go to Los Angeles where the winner will be announced at the California Yacht Club on April 9.

A panel of more than 200 voters made up of sports media members and experts across the country participated in the narrowing process.