The Gopher women moved to Williams Arena in 2002. Whalen returned to the Sports Pavilion yesterday afternoon for an exhibition game between her Minnesota Lynx and the Chicago Sky. In the decade between her Pavilion appearances, Whalen has made a Final Four run, been traded from the Connecticut Sun to her hometown team, and won a WNBA Championship.
She had actually played an exhibition game in Williams Arena as a member of the Sun, but this was her first time back in the Pavilion, and her first time playing at the University of Minnesota as a member of the Lynx.
Although the game was in the Pavilion, the Lynx used the basketball locker room in Williams Arena. The hallway walls outside the locker room--as well walls and trophy cases within the locker room itself--bear images of Whalen and the rest of the Gophers' 2004 Final Four team. Lynx head coach Cheryl Reeve said that Whalen took some ribbing from teammates for this.
It was all in good fun. Reeve also said that her team wanted to perform well for Whalen at her former home arena. The team delivered. The crowd of 4,102 saw the Lynx take a 40-25 lead into halftime and win by a final score of 82-61.
Whalen played 22 of 40 minutes. She scored nine points, distributed eight assists, and added five rebounds. A few of her scoring highlights included a crossover and step-back jumper, and an and-one layup to open the second half.
She also displayed her usual hustle and toughness, flying out of bounds and through some seats. But Reeve was not worried about the possibility of injury.
"Whay is a hockey player playing basketball," she said. "She takes all kinds of hits. It doesn't ever worry me. Occasionally she gets up a little slower, but I know she's going to get up."
Whalen is one of the big reasons the Lynx won the 2011 WNBA title. Virtually the entire roster from last season remains intact in 2012. The team has a shot to become the first back-to-back league champions since the Los Angeles Sparks in 2001 and 2002. The Lynx will open their regular season on Sunday against the Phoenix Mercury.
For a final preseason tune-up on the road to a repeat, it's hard to imagine a better place for Whalen than the court that helped to launch her into the national spotlight. Ten years after her last college game in the Pavilion, and eight years after her Gopher finale, she still holds a special place Minnesota basketball fans' hearts.