Gophers’ attitude is refreshing

The novelty of the Final Four seems as though it has worn off for UConn – not so in Minnesota.

by Brian Stensaas

NEW ORLEANS – It wasn’t long ago that just making it to the women’s NCAA basketball tournament was something special.

After 30 years of watching the men’s Final Four dominate the sports headlines of late March and early April, the women finally got their first NCAA-sanctioned tournament in 1982.

But now, it seems that for some, the novelty has worn off.

Following second-seeded Connecticut’s 66-49 win over top-seeded Penn State on March 29 in the East Regional final, Diana Taurasi, the Huskies’ juggernaut and two-time Naismith player of the year, didn’t wear her officially licensed Final Four berth hat; she tossed it into the crowd.

After the Huskies’ next game, a 67-58 win over seventh-seeded Minnesota on Sunday night at New Orleans Arena, coach Geno Auriemma rested his chin on his right palm at the interview table as he answered questions from the media.

Though he acknowledged how special of a time this was for UConn, he seemed bored. Ho-hum, tra-la-la, another year, another spot in the finals.

His team, in an unprecedented fifth-straight Final Four and third-straight national championship game, is no doubt one of the best ever. Yet, the excitement had gone bye-bye.

Not so for those who appreciate being there.

Exhausted both physically and mentally after defeating Duke, the Gophers returned to Williams Arena in the wee hours of Wednesday after stamping their first-ever ticket to the Final Four. In front of a decently sized crowd, every single team member proudly wore her respective black-and-gold-themed Final Four hat.

Though they lost in the national semifinal, Minnesota’s players and coaches were grateful when all was said and done as well.

Coach Pam Borton and players Lindsay Whalen and Janel McCarville did not use appendages as headrests in the media room. They sat tall – proud of what they had accomplished.

This is the way all postseason participants should feel. Thanks to the newfound exposure of women’s sports – ESPN televised all games of this year’s tournament for the first time – people are actually able to tune in and see how the events unfold rather than just listening to a scratchy AM radio station or waiting for the morning paper to clunk off the front door.

Minnesota is catching on and making a name for itself at just the right time.

“Hopefully, it will help with recruiting,” Borton said. “Being one of the Final Four teams, obviously you’ve got to have great players. But each team, each year, is different.”

The future is bright for Minnesota. If this newborn success matures into the norm, you better hope the team never gets used to the spotlight. It’s tacky.

Making it to the Final Four is an accomplishment that few get to experience.

One wrong move could result in a turnover that erases the moment in a flash.

It should never get old. Just ask Tennessee coach Pat Summitt, who will coach in her 102nd postseason game tonight.

Overall, her team has made it to the Sweet 16 in each of the 23 years it has been around and advanced to the Elite Eight 19 times. This is their eye-popping 15th Final Four.

No matter. Summitt takes nothing for granted.

“I learn every game,” she said.

Take note, Gophers. Cherish everything, never forget the feeling.