Souhan: Game gets physical, and Whalen gets going

  • Article by: JIM SOUHAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: June 4, 2012 - 5:54 PM

The point guard tapped her competitive streak -- and a bit of anger -- to help the Lynx remain unbeaten.

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Lindsay Whalen(13) and Becky Hammon(25) of the Silver Stars battle for a loose ball .

Photo: Richard Tsong-Taatarii, Star Tribune

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The Lynx's latest victory had not reached the blowout or blown-lead stage when, in the second quarter on Sunday night, a San Antonio player slammed into Lindsay Whalen.

She lay on the court wincing, and rose slowly. Once upright, she took over as if this was 2004 and the venue was Williams Arena.

Whalen drained a jumper on the next possession, then took an outlet pass without getting tackled, started a fast break and passed to Maya Moore for a layup.

After a timeout, Whalen scored again. Soon, the Lynx had a 26-point lead. They would win 83-79 in front of an announced crowd of 7,942 at Target Center, giving the Lynx a 13-game winning streak and reminding Whalen that sometimes the best performance-enhancing substance is anger.

"Usually, that does it," Whalen said. "You get hit, or feel something didn't go your way, and you really want to make something happen.

"A physical play like that, I guess it gets me going. And when I get going, I think a lot of other people on our team get going."

Whalen finished with a season-high 15 points, eight rebounds and seven assists, committing only one turnover in 27 minutes. Her counterpart, Becky Hammon of South Dakota, the Silver Stars and the Russian Olympic team, managed only seven points and four assists in 22 minutes, and three of those points came on a 51-foot heave before the half.

Whalen dominated Hammon, another ultra-competitive veteran who chose to use Russian citizenship as an entree into the Olympics.

Does Whalen have something against Russians?

"Actually, I've played on Russian teams, two of my years overseas," Whalen said. "I've gotten to know a lot of Russian people and I like a lot of Russian people.

"With Becky, we've played so many times, had so many playoff games against each other. I think our games are somewhat similar. We can both get tough shots up in traffic, and can shoot the three-pointer. We're just different in how we get there."

Whalen is a physical presence and a maestro. Hammon can be a pest. When Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve called Whalen over for an on-court chat, Hammon stuck her head in, eavesdropping.

"She's someone I've looked up to for a long time," Whalen said. "Her story is amazing. She's from South Dakota, she goes undrafted, and now she's a 10-year All-Star. I admire her a lot."

The Lynx's advantage in talent against every WNBA opponent has been complicated by the reality of women's basketball: Star players are much in demand. The Lynx's best players came back from their jobs overseas just before the WNBA season began, and the workload affected Whalen, who shot poorly in two of the Lynx's first three games.

"She had to work through some things," Reeve said.

As a point guard who can score, Whalen has to balance her responsibility for running the offense with her responsibility for playing her best.

She scored her team's last seven points in their close victory over Washington last week, and Sunday night she made a driving layup and a free throw in the last three minutes to keep the winning streak alive.

"I was over-thinking things," she said. "The last week or so, I've just played. I feel like the last-second shot I hit in Washington was good. You make a play, and then you stop thinking.

"Sometimes as a point guard, you come in and it's a new year and you're trying to figure out where everybody should go, and you forget about your own game. You just have to remember how to make plays, how to use your instincts. The last couple of games I feel like I've been able to control things."

Her team in the Czech League won a title, and Whalen is on the roster for the U.S. Olympic team that will compete in the London Games.

She's had a busy winter. She's going to have a busy summer. And if she slumps, all she needs is for someone to knock her down. That will get her going.

Jim Souhan can be heard Sundays from 10 a.m. to noon and weekdays at 2 p.m. on 1500-AM. His Twitter name is SouhanStrib. • jsouhan@startribune.com

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