Whalen's return to the Lynx isn't the first comeback of her career

Lindsay Whalen, Jasmine James
Minnesota Lynx guard Lindsay Whalen shoots during Game 1 of the WNBA basketball playoffs Western Conference finals Sept. 26, 2013, in Minneapolis.
Stacy Bengs | AP 2013

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The Minnesota Lynx begin their playoff run Tuesday night. They'll host the Washington Mystics at Williams Arena on the University of Minnesota campus while their permanent home, Target Center, is closed for renovations and their temporary home, Xcel Energy Center, is unavailable.

It's the first time the Lynx will play at the arena, but it'll be familiar territory for returning guard Lindsay Whalen, who missed the last 12 games of the regular season after breaking a bone in her left hand.

It's a story remarkably similar to her return to college play 13 years ago.

On March 21, 2004 the University of Minnesota Women's basketball team hosted UCLA at Williams Arena in the first round of the NCAA tournament.

Whalen, who was a senior at the U of M that year, returned to the court after missing five weeks because of two broken bones in her right hand. She scored 31 points and led the Gophers to victory that day.

The team had been struggling in Whalen's absence, so the triumphant return was a pleasant surprise for coach Pam Borton.

"I would've never expected her to come back, I would have never expected her to play 37 minutes," Borton said in an interview after the game. "But, you know, that's the type of player that she is, she's a special player."

It was a surprise for Whalen, too.

"There was obviously a feeling or a chance that I would never be able to play here again," she said. "I'm glad I was able to have a second chance to get out there and play with my teammates."

Whalen's skillful shooting put her opponents on notice, as did her ability to work a crowd.

Kathy Olivier, who was coaching at UCLA at the time, remembers seeing Whalen bring the crowd to their feet by simply raising her arms.

"I was like 'are you kidding me? That kid's got some power,'" Olivier said.

The Gophers made it all the way to the Final Four that year before losing to the University of Connecticut, the eventual national champion, in the semifinals.