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College basketball

Gophers golden opportunity is lost

UCONN 67, MINNESOTA 58: Huskies get chance to win three straight championships.

By EMILY NIPPS
Published April 5, 2004

NEW ORLEANS - They hustled and scrapped and fought.

In the end, Minnesota couldn't overcome Connecticut's dominance of women's college basketball.

Behind the usual outstanding play of guard Diana Taurasi and key contributions by Maria Conlon and Willnett Crocket, the Huskies held off the Golden Gophers 67-58 during Sunday's national semifinal.

UConn never trailed after Taurasi's 3-pointer to start the game, but Minnesota never stopped believing.

"Every time we (lead by) nine or 10, they would come down and get a 3," said Taurasi, who had 18 points and three blocks. "(Lindsay) Whalen would get in the lane, find someone. And that's just the character of the team. They weren't going to give up."

Neither were the Huskies (30-4), who kept finding ways to fend off the Gophers (25-9). UConn cooled down Whalen, Minnesota's high-adrenaline, quick-thinking point guard.

The Huskies held Whalen to 11 points, but she had seven assists and played a role in every Gophers run. Center Janel McCarville led the team with 18 points and seven rebounds.

UConn coach Geno Auriemma marveled at Minnesota's effort. It came within a 3-pointer of tying the Huskies several times.

"I don't like playing against teams that are really, really smart," Auriemma said. "And they're really smart. I don't like playing against teams that can beat you. And they really believed they can beat us."

Minnesota, the No.7 seed in the Mideast Region that lost Whalen to a broken hand five weeks before the NCAA Tournament, was an unlikely contender in the Final Four. It was the Gophers' first appearance in a national semifinal.

"I've truly enjoyed everything we've had here at Minnesota, and everything we have done, especially this year," Whalen said. "Taking it from the bottom of the Big Ten to a Final Four. ... We hopefully left our mark here."

UConn will try to win its third straight national championship and fifth in the program's history. The Huskies face Tennessee on Tuesday.

The Vols and Huskies meet in the championship game for the second straight season, third time in five seasons and fourth time overall.

Despite talk of growing parity in women's basketball, a UConn-Tennessee final almost seemed inevitable.

With nine minutes left, the Huskies led 53-46 and were doing their best to keep Whalen and McCarville out of the paint.

"They took away everything we wanted to do," McCarville said. "Everything. Obviously, if you do that, you're going to get a team out of synch and rhythm."

By the seven-minute mark, the Gophers cut it to 51-53.

After a timeout, Barbara Turner battled her way inside for a layup and followed it with a free throw when she was fouled.

Seconds later, Turner swatted a loose ball behind her and into the hands of Minnesota's Jamie Broback, who scored.

It didn't take the Huskies long to take back the game. With four minutes left, UConn widened the lead to 61-55 on Ann Strother's 3.

Rushed and sloppy shooting made the Gophers unproductive as UConn kept rolling. On one possession, Minnesota made three attempts to put back offensive rebounds before a jump ball was called.

Taurasi missed a jump shot and fouled Whalen, who went to the line and hit one. The second was put back by Kadidja Andersson.

It was too little, too late.

Taurasi made two free throws to make it 65-58 in the final minute.

UConn forward Ashley Battle added two more free throws, and as Gophers guard Shannon Schonrock tried to make a 3-pointer, Taurasi blocked it.

[Last modified April 5, 2004, 01:20:27]


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