The Minnesota Lynx were uprooted from their home arena this season while it undergoes some much-needed renovations.
While they played in unfamiliar territory during the regular season, Lindsay Whalen will feel right at home in the playoffs. With Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul occupied this month, the Lynx are moving again to Williams Arena, on the campus of the University of Minnesota.
For a former Golden Gopher like Whalen, who helped put the program on the map with a stirring run to the Final Four in 2004, it’s a dream come true.
“I’m excited for everybody that hasn’t gotten a chance to play there to experience what it will be like to play in that arena, in that environment in a playoff-type situation,” Whalen said. “There’s really nothing quite like it.”
The top-seeded Lynx, in search of championship No. 4, play Washington in the semifinals. Game 1 is Tuesday night.
The Mystics beat New York on Sunday thanks to a WNBA playoff-record nine 3-pointers from Kristi Toliver, who was a member of the Los Angeles Sparks team that beat Minnesota in the WNBA Finals last season.
“They are a phenomenal team, been to the finals so many times,” Mystics star Elena Delle Donne said. “They’ve got so many heads to the snake. We’ll watch a lot of film. We’ll enjoy this for a little bit.”
Target Center was shut down for the summer while undergoing a massive face lift to try to upgrade an outdated facility in time for the Timberwolves to open their home schedule on Oct. 20. That meant the Lynx had to be displaced, as often happens to WNBA teams when scheduling conflicts come up, both during the season and in the playoffs.
The Lynx aren’t just moving once, they are moving twice this season. The NHL’s Wild are back to work for training camp, meaning the ice sheet needed to take priority over the hardwood at Xcel. So Minnesota turned to “The Barn,” one of the oldest arenas in the United States.
Lynx owner Glen Taylor spent more than $1 million to bring some improvements to the building to accommodate the team and league, including air conditioning units that are generally not needed with the Gophers take the court in the fall.
“Lindsay Whalen is so excited that how do you not get excited about that?” Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve said. “I know what the environment is going to be like and I am appreciative.”
The Gophers women’s program was a disaster before Whalen arrived from Hutchinson, a town of about 14,000 a 90-minute drive west of the Twin Cities. Teaming with Janel McCarville, Whalen made the Gopher women so popular that they moved from the smaller Sports Pavilion into the 14,000-seat Williams Arena to accommodate the crowds.
Whalen missed the final 12 games of the regular season with a broken left hand, but a first-round bye ensured she will be back in time for the playoffs. There will be some rust that needs to be worked off, but the energy that figures to come from a return to her roots might be just what she needs to get back into it.
“It gets pretty loud if there’s a lot of people there,” she said with a grin. “Hopefully our fans will come out. If we could pack that place for the foreseeable future, that would be pretty cool.”