Lindsay Whalen and Janel McCarville first played an official basketball game together for the Gophers on Nov. 17, 2001. Whalen was a sophomore guard and a survivor of Cheryl Littlejohn’s disastrous final season as coach. McCarville was a husky, 6-2 freshman center from the hamlet of Custer, Wis.
The Gophers had concluded the previous season with an 11-game losing streak. Brenda Frese (then Oldfield) had been hired as the new coach.
The season opener came against Butler in what was billed as the Golden Gophers Classic. Result: Gophers, 114-65.
Whalen played 20 minutes, made 12 of 13 shots and scored 25 points. McCarville went 7-for-7 from the field and debuted with 21 points.
The crowd was dazzled. It also was announced at 1,103.
It was 2½ years later in March 2004 when Whalen and McCarville were teamed up in a final home game for the Gophers. The occasion was the second round of the NCAA tournament against Kansas State, a No. 2 seed. The Gophers were a seventh seed, largely because they played several weeks without an injured Whalen.
The senior was back for the tournament and led her team to a first-round victory over UCLA. K-State was led by Nicole Ohlde, a 6-5 center. The Gophers’ chances centered on the ability of McCarville to handle a player 3 inches taller and with smooth moves near the basket.
McCarville handled it by muscling Ohlde as if she was trying to force her out of the Barn and all the way to Stub & Herb’s.
The final was 80-61 for the Gophers. McCarville had 15 points, seven assists and 18 rebounds; Whalen scored 15. The tremendous tandem did this before a rollicking crowd announced at 13,425 at Williams Arena.
Whalen and McCarville took the Gophers women’s basketball program from being watched by a few hundred fans in the Sports Pavilion to being celebrated by maddened thousands on the other side of the wall.
On Saturday night, Whalen and McCarville were teammates again in Minneapolis, this time as members of the Lynx, the WNBA team that played in anonymity here for a dozen seasons.
Then, in summer of 2011, Whalen was back for her second Lynx season, Seimone Augustus had returned to health and rookie Maya Moore was on the scene. The Lynx won the WNBA title and earned a following.
The Lynx were upset by Indiana 3-1 in the 2012 finals. The main reason for this was they were outmuscled by the Fever.
When a basketball team can use muscle, who is it going to call? In the case of the Lynx, it was the New York Liberty, to make a trade for McCarville.
On Saturday, McCarville received generous applause from the announced crowd of 9,223 when introduced among the Lynx starters. Two hours later, the Lynx had a 90-74 victory, with McCarville neither scoring a point nor taking a shot.
And, yet, coach Cheryl Reeve and her Lynx teammates seemed satisfied by what they had received from the new starter at center.
“I don’t know if the boxscore reflects the way Janel played the game,” Reeve said. “She played hard, a vintage Janel game.”
A vintage McCarville game includes an uncanny ability to pass the ball. The Lynx took advantage of this by putting her on the high post and having her look for cutters on the inside.
This had enough of an effect that McCarville also was wondering if boxscore reflected the way she played.
“They had me passing from the high post, with ‘Mone’ [Augustus] and Maya cutting to the basket, and it was successful for us,’’ McCarville said. “I thought I should’ve gotten more than three assists.’’
McCarville glanced to her left and saw a reporter with a foot on her large sneakers. “Get off my shoes,’’ she said.
Asked about her defense, Big Mac said: “I didn’t exactly stop Tina Charles. She did dump 22 points on my head.’’
Eight years later, McCarville returned to Minnesota basketball in a familiar manner: as a character, and even without taking a shot, as a major contributor.
“It was great to wait for the starting lineups,’’ Whalen said. “I was sitting beside her, and to hear the crowd go crazy for her … it’s something I’ll never forget.’’
Patrick Reusse can be heard from 3-6 p.m. weekedays on AM-1500. email@example.com