Ten years ago this weekend the Gophers women’s basketball team was in New Orleans for the Women’s Final Four. The following is an excerpt from a column that Sally Jenkins wrote then for the Washington Post:
I’ve caught a case of Whalen worship.
I’m just another idiot like all the rest at the Women’s Final Four who can’t take their eyes off Minnesota’s broken-handed star guard, Lindsay Whalen, a kid with a slipstream glide to the basket and tendrils of wheat-colored hair that won’t be tamed by a headband, and a habit of taking absurdly improbable shots, most of which go in.
She has a plastic cast on her shooting hand and various other dings because she hits the floor more often than a mop. And she’s the most fun I’ve had in years.
Whalen’s team is the underdog in the Final Four, a bunch of homegrown Minnesota kids who were seeded seventh before they knocked off every team that was said to be better than them in their bracket, including Duke, to arrive here. Whalen’s got a flat Northwest accent and blank, straight-faced humor, and a habit of calling her teammates gruffly by their last names, like, “Schonrock,” and “Roysland,” and “Andersson.”
Nine of them are natives, including Whalen, from Hutchinson, a town of about 13,000 an hour west of the Twin Cities. “We’ll take a player from Wisconsin, one or two,” Whalen says. “We’re not biased.”
Whalen herself is called “Way” by her teammates and her devoted followers, and she’s everything to Minnesota, a player so valuable to her team and beloved back home that she recently received a marriage proposal from an 11-year-old boy.
“It’s not every day you get proposed to,” she says.
The Gophers lost to eventual champion UConn in the semifinals 67-58 on April 4, 2004. Whalen, now an All-Star guard in the WNBA for the Lynx and an Olympic gold medalist, scored 11 points.