Whalen Sets Lynx All-Time Assists Record
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Seimone Augustus said Lynx guard Lindsay Whalen gained the nickname “Baby Beast” while playing for Team USA this summer because of the way she plays the position—a unique hybrid of power, finesse and court awareness that no one on Minnesota’s squad could compare to another past or present point guard.
She’s the type of player opponents can’t quite figure out, because she’s so diverse in what she brings to the game. She slashes when she needs to, adjusts to what the defense gives her and isn’t afraid to go head-to-head with bigs in the lane if need be.
That’s why when Whalen became the Lynx franchise leader in assists in Sunday’s 83-59 win over Tulsa at Target Center, passing Katie Smith’s previous mark of 496, her teammates and coaches were not surprised by the milestone. It’s really just a number reinforcing what they witness while watching her play every day.
“I don’t care what anyone says, I think she’s the best point guard in the world,” center Taj McWilliams-Franklin said.
Whalen collected four assists on Sunday to go along with 15 points and five rebounds. It’s not surprising that on the night Whalen set the team’s all-time assists record the was also one of the team’s leading scorers, opening up the game with seven of the team’s first nine points and shooting 5-for-10 from the floor.
She did it in 2 ˝ years with the club, putting up 184 assists in her first year, 199 last season and has 115 to date in 2012. Smith never had more than 90 assists in a single season during her 6 ˝ years with the Lynx.
Whalen’s record-tying assist—her second of the game—didn’t come until the 6:03 mark of the second quarter when she found Augustus for a 3-pointer that knotted the game at 30-30. The record-setting assist didn’t’ come until the first minute of the third, when she found McWilliams-Franklin for a jumper that gave Minnesota a 44-39 lead.
In the heat of the moment, a sold-out Target Center loudly applauded as news came over the loudspeaker of Whalen’s accomplishment. She briefly waved to the crowd, heard coach Cheryl Reeve yell congratulations from the sidelines, then turned her attention back to Tulsa making the next inbound pass.
But that short moment really embodies what Whalen means to this Minnesota Lynx club. While breaking a WNBA franchise mark in front of fans who have watched her grow from a high school standout in Hutchinson to a program-changing leader at the University of Minnesota, Whalen humbly acknowledged the moment then went back to work.
After the game, she gave her teammates credit for her record.
“It also shows our teamwork and how we plays as a team and how we play together,” Whalen said. “As a point guard, I have the ball in my hands a lot, so it’s my job to find my teammates when they’re open. It’s a credit to our shooters, too really. We have great shooters from the post to the guards. I think the whole team can take credit in an accomplishment like that.”
McWilliams-Franklin said when Whalen misses an open teammate, she tells her she’ll find them next time. Augustus independently made the same comment. She said Whalen always credits her teammates for finishing the play.
“That’s Weezy, that’s what she does,” Augustus said. “She’s a master at getting the ball out there, and she always says thank you to us for making the shots. But she does an incredible job finding us and putting us in position to score baskets for her.”
Her teammates use the same words in describing Whalen. Toughness. Crafty. Unique. Strong.
“I don’t think there’s anyone quite like Whay,” Peters said.
All of that describes her play. Then there’s her leadership.
Reeve said she relies heavily on Whalen, as well as the other starters, to take control when the team needs a spark like they did Sunday against Tulsa. On this night, Whalen was a comedian, using witty comments to keep the mood light while the Lynx tried to create separation.
Put that with her style of play and Reeve has a player on her hands that dazzles her teammates time and again.
“I remember the first day of practice when she came back [from Team USA], I was in amazement of how she could squirt through the guys and get to the basket and create shots when you think they’re about to get blocked or she doesn’t have anything open,” Devereaux Peters said. “She’s very creative and crafty that way, and she’s just an amazing player.”
McWilliams-Franklin played in Connecticut with the Sun when Whalen was a rookie, so she’s seen the maturation of her game from her first season until now. She said she’s amazed at her development in the eight seasons.
Peters, in her first season with Whalen, perhaps summed it up best.
“Lindsay’s pretty much a boss, so [the record is] not surprising at all,” Peters said.
The Lynx will face the Storm on Tuesday in Seattle, the team Smith now plays for in her 15th season. Whalen said she grew up watching Smith and admiring her play while with the Lynx, so being in the same conversation with her regarding this record is an honor.
She said she’ll see Smith on Tuesday and, maybe, get a chance to talk about the record. Odds are by the time Whalen leaves this franchise, there will be a much larger separation between herself and Smith on the all-time assists charts.
“That’s something that’s in the record books and probably will be for a while,” Peters said. “I’m sure she’s going to build on that and it will be here for a while.”
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