Whalen’s second half surge leads Gophers to first-round win

by Aaron Blake

BSTANFORD, Calif. Before Saturday’s matchup with Minnesota’s women’s basketball team in the first round of the NCAA tournament, Tulane coach Lisa Stockton shrugged at the notion of containing All-American Lindsay Whalen.

“I do not know that you stop (players like that),” Stockton said. “This will be a challenge for our defense.”

Halfway through sixth seed Minnesota’s 68-48 victory on Saturday, Stockton’s team had, in fact, stopped Whalen, holding her to no points on 0-of-3 shooting. Tulane also had a one-point lead to show for it, heading into the locker room with a 28-27 advantage after a late charge in a sloppy first half.

Several minutes into the second half, however, Whalen did her part to prove Stockton’s sentiments correct.

After the 11th seeded Green Wave (19-10) built its biggest lead of the game at 35-32, Whalen scored her first points of the game with 16:29 remaining in the contest, tying the score with a three-pointer from the top of the key.

Just 31 seconds later, Whalen toed the line again and gave the Gophers (24-5) their first lead since 2:24 remaining in the first half.

Whalen’s pair of redeeming heaves would spur a 23-5 run that gave Minnesota a 15-point lead it would not relinquish.

She finished the half scoring 18 points and hitting three of four three-pointers in the final 16-plus minutes of the half.

“Lindsay knew that she needed to step up and she was feeling it out there,” Gophers coach Pam Borton said. “If you see her play enough, you’ll know she was just feeling it. She was not going to let us lose this game.

“That’s what great players do. They step up and get the team going.”

To go along with her 18 points, Whalen finished with six assists and five rebounds.

She maintains she was happy at the half, knowing her team played a poor half and still only trailed by a point.

With Minnesota’s other all-conference selections – Corrin Von Wald and Janel McCarville – struggling with first half foul trouble, an unlikely offensive source kept the Gophers above water for Whalen’s second-half mastery of the Tulane defense.

Freshman point guard Shannon Schonrock drove the baseline midway through the first half for a three-point play after the Gophers had been stuck on 10 points for over five minutes.

She quickly added a short jump shot to put the lead at 15-9 and scored the last points of the half with a three-pointer that gave Minnesota some momentum heading into the locker room.

With the Gophers’ big three combining for just 10 first-half points, Schonrock’s eight kept Minnesota in the game and set the table for Whalen in the second half.

“Shannon Schonrock did not play like a freshman, playing 40 minutes, stepping up and hitting some big shots for us,” Borton said.

Schonrock hit another three-pointer two minutes into the second half. After a Kadidja Andersson jumper, Whalen began her scoring binge.

Turning a one-point halftime deficit and a three-point deficit early in the second half into a 20-point victory, Whalen says she never got frustrated.

“Things like that just happen,” Whalen said. “You need to put that half behind you and work on it the next. We did a great job of that.

“I don’t think anything really woke me up. I just think we came out in the first half and didn’t really execute well.”

Aaron Blake covers women’s basketball and welcomes comments at [email protected]