Looking Back: 2004 Gophers
by Menzie Henderson
During the most exciting basketball season in school history, the 2003-2004 Minnesota Gopher women�s basketball team went on an unforgettable run all the way to the Final Four. With all eyes glued to the improbable and remarkable run, it was a season that single-handedly changed the perception of women�s basketball in the state of Minnesota. By gaining strong fan support and momentum, the Gophers rode the wave over multiple women�s basketball powerhouses en route to the promise land of the NCAA tournament. While the stats and the talents were impressive, the experiences and memories that were shared along the way is what makes the Golden Gopher story truly unforgettable.
�What I remember is all the friendships that you make from all the years of work that you put into at that point,� former Gopher Lindsay Whalen said. �That was my senior year, so just all the work we put in and when you think about the role that each player put into that run was pretty special, so it was definitely a fun time.�
During Whalen�s senior season, the Minnesota Gophers finally received rightful recognition and broke into the national spotlight during the NCAA tournament run. Over the course of Whalen�s college career, she helped create a drastic improvement in fan involvement and support due to her flashy and entertaining style of play. She became the school�s all-time leading scorer, with 2,285 career points, fifth all-time in the Big Ten Conference. She was the first three-time All-American and four-time team MVP for the Golden Gophers. She averaged 20.3 points per game in her college career. Whalen eventually became a local legend in Minnesota, as her college jersey number 13 was retired by the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities on January 3, 2005. That day was pronounced �Lindsay Whalen Day.�
�We had a real good year,� Whalen stated. �That group was really good about holding each other accountable, that team was one of the best that I have been on as far as everyone knowing what they were supposed to do and what their role was. It was a really good group, and a special year. You don't get many teams like that, teams like that only come around once in a bunch of seasons so it was definitely a fun year."
The Gopher teammates formed a close bond off the court, which translated to excellent team chemistry on the court. One of Whalen's former teammates, Shannon Bolden, was a key player during the tournament run. While Bolden might have not been the most publicized player on the team, her role was one of the most important on the road to the Final Four.
As a sophomore during the 2003-04 season, Bolden started in all 34 games at small forward and was labeled the team's defensive stopper. Named one of the finest defenders in school history, Bolden accepted her role during the historic tournament run and was faced with the tough tasks of guarding women's basketball legends Diana Taurasi and Alana Beard.
"I think that the fact that I was so young was a good thing, because I almost didn't realize the extent of what was asked to do," Bolden said. "It was a great experience from the beginning being a defensive stopper, I embraced that role, and all I wanted to do each and every game was shut down the team's best player to try to put our team in a position to win. It's fun guarding players like Diana Taurasi and Alana Beard and it just made me feel like I was really contributing to the team."
Bolden responded to the difficult assignments swimmingly, as her tenacious defense provided the Gophers a chance to win against women's basketball powerhouses, Connecticut and Duke. In the elite eight stage, Bolden helped Minnesota advance to the Final Four by forcing Connecticut's Taurasi to go just 6-of-17 from the floor. Then, Bolden did what she does best again in the Final Four, matching up with Duke's unanimous first-team AP All-American and national player of the year, Alana Beard. She limited Beard to just 10 points on 4-of-14 shooting, but unfortunately it wasn't enough as the Gophers magical run came to a close in the national semifinal.
Now, a Minnesota kinesiology graduate of 2006, Bolden looks back on her efforts with pride as she watches Diana Taurasi and Alana Beard find success in the WNBA.
"I do take a lot of pride in the fact that I was able to really defend some of those players and shut them down or hold them to even below their average," Bolden said. "Looking at them now and seeing the success that they've had after their college careers just shows that I played an important role on the team and I take a lot of pride in that."
As a team that accomplished so much in an unreal experience, there are many memories that were gained for the school, community, and the Golden Gopher teammates.
"It was such a blur and such an experience," Bolden said. "Just spending that whole year with that team, it was like we were best friends throughout the year and it was great each weekend getting a little further in the NCAA tournament and looking forward to playing with each other the following weekend. Even now looking back, I can't even believe how quickly everything went by and how fast those few weeks went, but it was the best experience of my life and I know a lot of my teammates feel the same way."
"That 2004 team will definitely go down in history as the best team that has come through here, it was just a great run,� Whalen stated.
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