Golden run ends: UConn’s Taurasi is just too much for U to handle

Gophers’ top defender Shannon Bolden couldn’t quite shut down this star.

by Brian Stensaas

NEW ORLEANS – Minnesota women’s basketball guard Shannon Bolden has been busy the last few weeks.

Along with coming back to classes after spring break, playing in the NCAA Tournament and trying to lead a normal life, lately she’s been in charge of trying to contain some of the best women’s basketball players in the country.

Sunday, at New Orleans Arena, Bolden faced her biggest challenge yet – Connecticut’s Diana Taurasi.

As if successfully restraining Duke’s Alana Beard (held to just 10 points) and Kansas State’s Laurie Kohen (held to two points) already this postseason wasn’t enough, Bolden was rewarded with yet another challenge.

She was up to it. But the back-to-back winner of the Naismith national player of the year award and her teammates were too much.

Despite being limited to six points in the second half, Taurasi scored 18 points, which is two above her season average and three above her career average, in guiding the Huskies to their third-straight NCAA championship game appearance.

“They play well as a team defensively,” UConn coach Geno Auriemma said of the Gophers. “Their whole game plan was really, really good. Their intensity level, the whole team, was as good as I’ve seen this year. They were really hard to play against.”

The Huskies will play Tennessee on Tuesday for the national title.

When it came down to it Sunday, Taurasi got the right looks, the open passing lanes and the matchup needed to again power her team to victory.

In the first half, Taurasi showed why she garners all the nation’s attention when it comes to women’s basketball by nailing a three-pointer just 13 seconds into the game.

She went on to score the bulk of her points in the half, knocking in 12 as the Huskies had a 37-29 lead at the break.

“We couldn’t convert some things that we normally do,” said Bolden, who saw little action during last year’s Sweet 16 run. “There weren’t any obvious huge things, it was a close game throughout. They always came back.”

Taurasi, who is likely on her way to being the WNBA’s top pick in this year’s draft, did it from all angles. She chipped in eight of UConn’s 38 points in the paint to go along with six rebounds and a team-high three assists.

“She gets in the lane, passes well and creates shots for other people,” Minnesota guard Lindsay Whalen said. “If she can’t score, she’ll find someone else who can.”

The Gophers switched to double coverage on Taurasi in the second half, which made her presence less felt as the game went on. And many took notice.

In the post-game press conference, a reporter referred to Sunday’s game as being not one of Taurasi’s best, calling the effort “mediocre.”

Taurasi shrugged and quickly praised her teammates, who don’t get anywhere near the attention she does.

“When you go against a good defensive team, it’s not just one person,” she said. “It’s kind of like what we did to Lindsay tonight.”