NEW ORLEANS – Lindsay Whalen had the same look she has had all season as she reflected on Minnesota women’s basketball team’s 67-58 loss to Connecticut on Sunday night in New Orleans Arena.
“It’s been a great run,” Whalen said after the game that ended her college career.
The Huskies ended the run with aggressive defense and even more aggressive rebounding.
But it wasn’t easy.
The resilient Minnesota team answered all but the last of the Huskies’ runs and had the ball, down by three points, with 3:20 remaining.
Whalen, who was held to 11 points, spun her way to the basket and missed a layup that would have cut the lead to one.
The Huskies’ Ann Strother nailed a three-pointer from the corner on the following possession, and the Huskies were able to grab key offensive rebounds in the following minutes to put the game out of the Gophers’ reach.
The Gophers were out-rebounded 36-25 in the game, and the Huskies grabbed several of their 12 offensive rebounds in the final minutes of the game.
“We were giving up offensive boards the whole game,” Minnesota coach Pam Borton said. “I felt that was the difference. They were a lot more physical and aggressive on the boards.”
But the Gophers were aggressive everywhere else. They attacked the Huskies and didn’t show signs of being in awe of their history or the magnitude of the game in front of the capacity 18,211 on hand.
“I can’t put into words the admiration that I feel for the kids from Minnesota and how well they played the game of basketball,” Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma said. “To beat them today is as gratifying as anything that we have ever done at the University of Connecticut.”
The two-time defending national champion Huskies will play Tennessee at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday in the title game.
The Huskies’ Diana Taurasi scored 18 points and grabbed six rebounds.
Taurasi hit a three-pointer in the first play of the game and led all scorers with 12 points in the first half.
After the Gophers’ leading defender, Shannon Bolden, went out with her second foul with 13:12 left in the half, Taurasi lit up the Gophers.
With a devastating turnaround jumper the All-American scored nine points in the next six minutes and put the Huskies up 29-18 with 6:42 left in the half.
Janel McCarville, who finished with 18 points, scored her fifth basket of the game and Whalen sank two free throws that brought the Gophers within striking distance at 33-27 with 2:34 remaining in the half.
But Ashley Battle, who had eight points off the bench for UConn, sank two free throws to put the Huskies up 37-29 going into the locker room.
The Gophers came out in the second half not ready to back down.
Whalen crossed her defender over and fully extended in front of the rim for a layup that cut the Huskies’ lead to four points with 17:49 remaining.
Jamie Broback nailed her second three-pointer to bring the Gophers within two points at 53-51 with 7:53 remaining.
Though the season ends on a losing note, as it does for all but one team in the tournament, the Gophers will look back at their first-ever Final Four with no regrets.
“We weren’t going to go down easy,” McCarville said. “They had the big reputation and everything, but we wanted to give everything we had and we wanted to leave it on the floor.”