Whalen Excited For Return To Sports Pavilion
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It’s easy to forget that before the University of Minnesota women’s basketball team began its rise to national prominence during Lindsay Whalen’s collegiate career, the Gophers didn’t play their games at Williams Arena—instead, they called the smaller Sports Pavilion home.
It’s where Whalen began her career, and after the team began drawing larger crowds and moved to Williams Arena she and the Gophers still practiced there over her final two years in school. Her final year in 2004 yielded a Final Four appearance.
It’s been 10 years since Whalen has played a game at the Sports Pavilion—she last did so as a sophomore—but she will make her return on Tuesday as the Minnesota Lynx host the Chicago Sky in their final preseason game of the season. Tipoff is set for 12 p.m.
For Whalen, her first basketball home on campus is a symbol of the progress the program made during those four years.
“My first year was really hard there,” she said. “My second year was where we really kind of picked up and we had some really good games there, before it magically flooded [due to a broken water pipe] so we could go to Williams and we started getting huge crowds. But the Pav is where a lot of practice time, a lot of hard work and it’s where it all started for us.”
Whalen returned to campus in 2005 for an exhibition game with the Connecticut Sun against the Lynx. Now in her third season back in Minnesota and coming off a WNBA championship last year, Whalen returns to campus as a decorated professional hoping for one final tune-up before the regular season begins on Sunday against Phoenix.
“Just being over there is going to be cool,” Whalen said. “It’s such a great campus. I love the U of M, so I’m looking forward to it.”
The Gophers retired her No. 13 in 2005 and still proudly display her likeness as the leader of the program’s most successful era. She led the team to three straight NCAA tournament appearances, and during her four years the average attendance rose from 1,087 in 2001 to 9,866 in 2004. Whalen is Minnesota’s all-time leading scorer with 2,285 points and was the first Gophers player to earn All-America honors in three different seasons.
Whalen still owns school records for points, scoring average, games in double figures, free throws made and free-throw percentage.
Along with her individual records, the team won. Minnesota entered the 2004 NCAA tournament as a seventh seed and battled all the way to the Final Four, topping No. 1 seed Duke in the Elite Eight before falling to Connecticut. Whalen averaged 19.8 points and 7.8 assists per game and won the Midwest Region MVP.
“That’s something that no one can ever take away, that’s for sure,” Whalen said. “I was just really glad I was able to be part of it.”
On Tuesday, she’ll get one more chance to take the floor where here celebrated collegiate career began. No question the Lynx’s trip to the Sports Pavilion will be a memorable one for the former Gophers standout.
“[The program] went a long way,” Whalen said. “We had a great run. It was pretty great what we were able to do there.”
Monday’s Camp Notes
“I had a great weekend. I feel really good,” Whalen said. “I feel confident.”
Whalen said she felt a rise in intensity playing with Team USA, something she wanted to bring back to the Lynx when she returned.
“I feel like I wanted to bring some of that back,” she said. “And I think everybody could feel that we needed that more intensity. Just even from the Connecticut game, not even just from going out there and practicing. We could tell from the Connecticut game, and you could tell things got picked up over the weekend here and today was a really good day for us.”
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