LONDON - The U.S. women's basketball team doesn't offer many surprises. Lindsay Whalen might be the only one.
Wednesday night, the U.S. extended its Olympic winning streak to 36 games with an 89-58 victory over Turkey. As routine as that may sound, the game was still in doubt late in the third quarter, and may have remained close if not for Whalen's forceful play and her leadership of what coach Geno Auriemma calls the bench "commandos."
Whalen, the University of Minnesota alum and Lynx star, scored 14 points in 18 minutes, made five of her eight shots, grabbed seven rebounds to tie for the team lead, and contributed two steals and two assists.
She wasn't necessarily the best player on the floor on a night when Angel McCoughtry had 18 points and seven rebounds in 16 minutes, but Whalen was on the floor during two game-breaking runs.
Turkey led 10-8 when Whalen entered with the second unit late in the first quarter. That group went on an 11-6 run.
The U.S. led 46-37 in the third quarter when Whalen's wave entered again, and this time she organized a 20-10 run that broke the game open. Whalen even started with the first unit at the beginning of the fourth quarter.
"When Lindsay was in college and we were getting ready to play in the Final Four, I thought that she was a great combination of somebody who was hard-nosed and smart, and creative," Auriemma said. "She just is what a guard is supposed to be. Back in the day you had guards and forwards and centers. Somewhere along the line someone screwed it up by saying you had to have a point guard, a shooting guard, a small forward, all that. Lindsay is an old-fashioned guard."
Auriemma, the legendary coach at the University of Connecticut, watched Whalen play for the Connecticut team in the WNBA. "I said, man, this kid doesn't have any fun playing," he said. "She needs to have fun and smile and enjoy life.
"When we got to the world championships last year, that was the most surprising part, her personality, her attitude, the work ethic that she brings. The confidence that I have in her is unquestioned."
Despite the three blowout victories in London, the U.S. team has started slowly in each game, leaving Whalen to lead a rally. "I've been blessed to play with her for the last season and a half, and I'm so proud of her and everything she does, and how she's playing at this point in her career," said forward Maya Moore, another Lynx star. "I'm living vicariously through Lindsay Whalen."
Moore had five points and five rebounds in 15 minutes. Seimone Augustus, the other Lynx player on the squad, had nine points in 18 minutes.
Was it difficult for Whalen to become comfortable playing with such a dominant team? "I think you go back to the World Championships," Whalen said. "Getting to know their games, their styles, and what I could bring to the team. ... I kind of figured those things out along the way."