’04 Final Four team reunites

Sunday was the first time two Gophers women’s basketball icons — Lindsay Whalen and Janelle McCarville — faced each other in Minnesota, and the Lynx reunited most of the 2003-2004 Gophers team that made an improbable run to the Final Four as a No. 7 see

Janel McCarville, left, hugs ex-Gopher teammate Lindsay Whalen Sunday at the Target Center. The two led Minnesota to an improbable Final Four berth in 2004 as a No. 7 seed.

Janel McCarville, left, hugs ex-Gopher teammate Lindsay Whalen Sunday at the Target Center. The two led Minnesota to an improbable Final Four berth in 2004 as a No. 7 seed.

Derek Wetmore

Six and a half years after a memorable Final Four appearance by the Gophers womenâÄôs basketball team, the group that brought womenâÄôs basketball in Minnesota to new heights was reunited. The Lindsay Whalen-lead Minnesota Lynx hosted Janel McCarvilleâÄôs New York Liberty on Sunday night, which was also University of Minnesota night at the Target Center. It was the first time the two Gophers womenâÄôs basketball icons faced each other in Minnesota, and the Lynx reunited most of the 2003-2004 Gophers team that made an improbable run to the Final Four as a No. 7 seed. On the court, McCarvilleâÄôs Liberty held off a late charge by Whalen, who came to the Lynx in an offseason trade this winter and had a team-high 18 points in the losing effort. However, it was the pre-game ceremony that resonated most meaningfully with the largest crowd since opening night. The Lynx are in the midst of a battle for a playoff spot, but Gophers Night drew 9,016 people and was a bigger boon for attendance than most games, even those with playoff implications. âÄúI thought it was pretty amazing getting everyone back in one place,âÄù head womenâÄôs basketball coach Pam Borton said. Borton was in her second year as head coach in 2004, and led the team easily through the tournamentâÄôs first two rounds at the Metrodome, including a 19-point rout of No. 2-seeded Kansas State to reach the Sweet-16. They beat 18th-ranked Boston College to reach the teamâÄôs first Elite Eight, and with 47 combined points from Whalen and McCarville, upset top-seeded Duke two nights later. Whalen, who handled the ball for most of the final minutes, hit the decisive lay-up with 56 seconds left, giving the Gophers a four-point lead en route to the 82-75 win In front of a large traveling contingent of fans in New Orleans, the Gophers couldnâÄôt get past Connecticut, another top seed and the eventual champions, but falling one game short of a national championship game hasnâÄôt hindered that teamâÄôs legacy in Minnesota. âÄúI donâÄôt think IâÄôd trade a moment of it,âÄù McCarville said. âÄúEvery day we rose to the occasion to achieve something great for this community, the state, and I was happy to be a part of it.âÄù Prior to SundayâÄôs game, the women were introduced one-by-one and received a bouquet and applause from the crowd, still cognizant of the 2004 teamâÄôs accomplishments. Introductions concluded with McCarville and Whalen, who both received long and loud applause. âÄúIt was great,âÄù McCarville said. âÄúI play for a different team now, but they still recognize what we did as collegiate players âĦ I donâÄôt think they look at me as a New York Liberty player; IâÄôm still a Golden Gopher in most of their eyes. ThatâÄôs how itâÄôs supposed to be.âÄù After tip-off, Whalen missed the gameâÄôs first shot and the rebound found its way into McCarvilleâÄôs arms. Both players took center stage on the court and relished the chance to see and compete against an old friend. âÄúI like it,âÄù McCarville said. âÄúBefore the games, itâÄôs kind of all fun and games, but once the ball goes up, that all gets put in the background and youâÄôve got to play through it.âÄù Added Whalen: âÄúWeâÄôve played against each other so many times now, itâÄôs always fun.âÄù The fans remember the exciting Gophers squad from years ago, but Sunday, the players got to pause for a moment and reflect on their accomplishments as well. âÄúYou look back on your college years and your experiences, all the friendships that you have, how close our team was âÄî especially throughout that [Final Four] run,âÄù Whalen said. Borton said the event has likely been in planning stages since the Lynx acquired Whalen with one of the biggest trades in WNBA history in January. âÄúYou hope itâÄôs not a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity because you obviously want to get back to the Final Four, but it was a special group of young women with a special chemistry,âÄù Borton said. âÄúThere were some good feelings and great flashbacks.âÄù Along with Borton, Whalen and McCarville, every member of the 2004 team was present except Kadidja Andersson , Christina Collison and Liz Podominick.