Chilly encounter with not-too-happy past

Gophers run into Frese, who left to go to Maryland

Final Four notebook

Ncaa Women's Tournament

April 04, 2004|By Milton Kent | Milton Kent,SUN STAFF

NEW ORLEANS - These are understandably happy times for the Minnesota women's basketball team - it's advanced to its first Final Four, and two members of the team, senior guard Lindsay Whalen and junior center Janel McCarville, were named Kodak All-Americans yesterday.

But it didn't take long for the Golden Gophers to get a reminder of the not-too-distant turbulent past. After the Kodak announcement, they walked past Brenda Frese, the coach who left them two years ago after taking them to their first NCAA tournament in eight years.

Frese, who left Minnesota to come to Maryland after one season in Minneapolis, shook hands with one of the players as they walked through a hotel ballroom, but the meeting was decidedly cool.

Later, Whalen and McCarville said whatever resentment they had for their former coach has passed.

"It was a business decision," said McCarville. "We realized that. It's just [that] I don't think a lot of us were happy on how it happened and the way we found out over the TV while we were watching the Maryland [men's] national championship game. I think that's the only thing that really disappointed us, is that we didn't find out from her right away or anything like that."

The Gophers upperclassmen are playing for their third coach in four years. Cheryl Littlejohn, who recruited the juniors and seniors, left in the midst of an NCAA investigation. Frese coached the team for one year and was named Associated Press Coach of the Year in 2001-02, when she guided the Gophers to a 22-8 mark.

"To see Lindsay Whalen get there as a senior and Janel McCarville as a junior - those are once in a lifetime players," said Frese. "There's a combination of things when you look at three coaches in four years. ... Cheryl Littlejohn recruited them. When I came in, it was to instill a confidence. With Pam Borton, it was instill her system and to move the program along."

Coach on minds of LSU

LSU's first appearance at the Final Four is bittersweet, for while the school is playing in the national semifinals in an arena an hour from their Baton Rouge campus, their coach, Sue Gunter, will not be on the bench.

Gunter, one of three women's coaches to win 700 games, has been suffering from acute bronchitis since January and has missed the Lady Tigers' past 18 games. She has made periodic appearances at practice and has been in constant touch with acting head coach Dana "Pokey" Chatman. Gunter is here at the team's hotel, but will not make an appearance at the arena.

"She's like a little kid at Christmas," said Chatman of Gunter. "She's giddy; she's excited. It's difficult for our kids to answer questions because they do talk to Coach Gunter, they see her, she's there. She's just tremendously excited. She can't stop talking about things."

Gunter also missed her chance to coach the 1980 U.S. Olympic team because of the boycott imposed by President Jimmy Carter.

"I have never heard anyone say an unkind word about Sue Gunter," said Tennessee coach Pat Summitt, who was to have been Gunter's assistant on the 1980 Olympic team. "She has been a friend and a mentor to a lot of people, including myself. And it breaks my heart that she cannot be on the bench."

Tough time for Beard

Duke senior guard Alana Beard is in New Orleans as she expected to be, after the Blue Devils returned nearly the entire team that advanced to the previous two Final Fours.

But as she accepted the Wade Trophy yesterday - women's college basketball's most prestigious individual award - Beard choked up on the podium, as her team was not present with her, having lost to Minnesota in the Mideast Regional final.

Yesterday Beard was also named AP Player of the Year and to the Kodak All-America team for the third time.

Joe Curl was named AP Coach of the Year after guiding Houston to a 28-4 season, the best in school history.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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