Jim Souhan: Whalen shows true grit even if she's searching for Brit's

  • Article by: JIM SOUHAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 29, 2012 - 1:10 AM

She provided an immediate spark off the bench in her Olympic debut as the U.S. women won its opener against Croatia.

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Team USA's Lindsay Whalen drove to the basket against Croatia's Lisa Ann Karcic during Saturday's game in London.

Photo: Harry E. Walker, McClatchy Tribune

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LONDON - Perhaps only a girl from Hutchinson, Minn., who loves her home state and lives in downtown Minneapolis would mull her entertainment options in the teeming, ale-soaked streets of London and decide she'd like to find a place just like Brit's Pub.

"You know, with the lawn bowling and all that," Lindsay Whalen said. "That would be cool."

That's Brit's Pub, Nicollet Mall, Minneapolis. "I've got to try some fish 'n' chips, too," Whalen said.

Once the Olympic basketball tournament ends, it might be safe to tell Whalen that there are a few pubs in London, and that they may not be copies of Minnesota's best watering holes.

For now, let her concentrate on basketball. The dynastic U.S. women need her more than anyone could have imagined.

Whalen's inspired play off the bench helped the USA hold off Croatia 81-56 on Saturday at the Olympic Basketball Arena. In 18 minutes, 39 seconds, she scored nine points, making four of her five shots from the field, and contributed two assists and two rebounds.

When Whalen entered the game in the first quarter, she scored five quick points. When she entered in the third quarter, the U.S., carrying a 33-game Olympic winning streak, led 39-36.

After Croatia cut it to 41-40, Whalen took a pass from Lynx teammate Maya Moore for a layup. Less than a minute later, Whalen grabbed a loose ball and drove the length of the court for a layup, making it 47-40.

Whalen started the fourth quarter of the surprisingly close game and helped the U.S. pull away, often as a result of Whalen's floor leadership.

Moore had four points, five rebounds, a steal, a block and two assists in 11:31. Seimone Augustus, the other Lynx star, had two points on 1-for-8 shooting.

"Lindsay did great," said Sue Bird, the starting point guard. "I think what Lindsay brings to our team, the things she does well, you saw them come out to play today. Her aggressiveness. She can score the ball and she can also find people on her way to the basket."

The U.S. roster is remarkably talented and accomplished, and the program has won four consecutive gold medals. Whalen, who did not make the Beijing Olympic team, was not supposed to be a pivotal player.

Saturday, in her first Olympic game, she was.

"I think it's my job to come in and be aggressive, to play to my strengths," she said. "And bring a lot of energy."

She sounded more worried about the pregame introductions than the game itself. Whalen was introduced first, because she wore the lowest number, 4.

"When you're the first one, you just don't want to make any mistakes," she said, laughing. "You don't want to trip. I just wanted to run to my spot, hit everyone's hand and wait, just like I did at the world championships.

"So today I was like, 'Sue, same thing today, right? Just run out there and wait?' "

Maybe it's because she's 30, and has wanted this for so long, or maybe it's because she's always been a humble person from a small town, with hard-working parents. Whatever the reason, Whalen seems awed by her surroundings, even if she isn't letting them throw her off her game.

"Yesterday," she said, "was a big day."

Whalen walked with the U.S. team at the Opening Ceremony. She spent time with Lindsey Berg, the former Gophers volleyball player, and Kevin Love, the Timberwolves star. She caught up with teammates from the team she plays for in the Czech Republic.

She even chatted with LeBron James. "It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience," she said. "Just the crowd, when you walk in there, just being around the other athletes was cool."

Her husband, Ben Greve, arrived Saturday, shortly before Whalen headed for the arena.

"We're going to just chill tonight, but we've got to get out and see the city," she said.

With a little luck, and maybe a few Google searches, Whalen might be able to find an English pub almost as good as Brit's.

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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