ROCHESTER – The Lynx’s preseason finale Sunday was about taking a final look at some players trying to make the team for the first time, and a first look at returning veteran Janel McCarville.
It was about winning, too. But, with the starting five stumbling out of the gate, the Lynx found themselves down 17 points after a quarter and by as many as 26 in the second quarter in an 85-68 loss to the Mystics in front of a crowd of 4,524 at Mayo Civic Center.
Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve wasn’t thrilled with the way her team started the game, but she saw enough over 40 minutes to feel good about upcoming roster decisions and about the return of McCarville.
Minnesota’s plan to build a team deep enough to contend for another WNBA title while not taxing the starters received a huge boost with McCarville’s return.
McCarville, who took the 2015 WNBA season off because of injury concerns, instead watched as a season-ticket holder as the Lynx won a third title in five seasons. After signing her contract Saturday, McCarville played 13 minutes, 3 seconds off the bench Sunday. She finished with three points, four rebounds and two assists.
“I saw them having a lot of fun out there,” McCarville said of last summer. “That’s the thing I missed most.”
McCarville figures to be a key cog off the bench for a Lynx team that can now go eight or nine deep with proven veterans — McCarville at center, Jia Perkins and Renee Montgomery at guard, Natasha Howard at forward.
“I will go out on a limb and say this is probably the deepest team we’ve had in my time here,” said Reeve, who is entering her seventh year as the team’s coach. “If we can stay healthy, that makes for a fun environment for everybody.”
On Sunday, McCarville entered the game with 7:13 left in the first half and the Lynx in the middle of what Reeve called “a five-alarm fire.” McCarville helped stabilize things. Despite not having remembered all the plays, McCarville had three points, three rebounds and two assists in the first half.
McCarville and the Lynx had been in contact throughout the European season. The idea always was to bring her back if she were willing and able. When McCarville got home from Turkey midweek, she decided she was good to go.
Saturday was her first practice. And while the Lynx have become more low post-focused since Sylvia Fowles’ arrival, the offense is basically the same, so there isn’t a lot of new things for McCarville to learn. But it didn’t take long for her passing skills to show.
“When you put Janel on the court it’s instant, her impact,” Reeve said. “Some of the plays she made in practice [Saturday] you could [see] it. She creates easy opportunities. Maya is probably the greatest all-time cutter in our league. When you cut and you’re rewarded? For players like Maya, that’s like gold.”
McCarville will mainly be Fowles’ backup, though Reeve said there may be times when they’re on the court together. McCarville is fine with her new role.
“I’m just trying to find a little niche in there, where I can be a part of it,” McCarville said. “Hopefully get another trophy. That’s what it’s all about.”
Reeve had said Howard, Bashaara Graves and Porsha Roberts were battling for the final two roster spots. It appeared Howard took the biggest step forward. Graves scored two points in 13:02. Roberts did not get in the game.
The Lynx got a team-high 15 points from Keisha Hampton, who is battling for a roster spot. Moore had 14, Montgomery and Howard 11 each.
The Mystics shot 54.8 percent and scored 33 points off Lynx turnovers. Former Minneapolis South and Ohio State star Tayler Hill led all scorers with 18 points.
Both Seimone Augustus and Rebekkah Brunson have finished playing overseas, and Reeve said both players would get some practice time in with the team before Saturday’s regular-season opener against Phoenix.