WNBA squad heads to Williams Arena for showdown with first-place Sacramento Monarchs

Since their inaugural 1999 season, the Lynx had played every home game at Target Center before Friday.

Nick Gerhardt

Williams Arena hasn’t exactly treated current Minnesota Lynx players nicely in the past.

Lynx guard Noelle Quinn and forward/center Nicole Ohlde played at The Barn during their collegiate careers and found it a difficult place to play.

“It was the best away-arena I ever played at,” Ohlde said, who played there as a member of Kansas State in 2004. “It was so loud I couldn’t hear anything. My ears were just ringing when the game was over.”

But Friday that same raised floor will be the sight of Minnesota’s showdown with the Sacramento Monarchs, only this time Ohlde and Quinn will be able to use the home crowd to their advantage. Tipoff is slated for 7 p.m.

Quinn recalls playing for UCLA and encountering the wrath of former Gophers All-American center Janelle McCarville at a crucial point in the game.

“There was a phantom call that we got when McCarville jumped over one of our girls’ back, and our girl was on the ground; (we) got called for the foul,” Quinn said. “Our coach got called for a technical and the Gophers got the advantage with free throws.”

The Lynx joined the WNBA in 1999, just two years after the league’s inception. Since their inaugural tipoff against the Detroit Shock, every home game has been played at the Target Center.

That will change Friday as team management saw an opportunistic change of scenery in the form of the University campus.

Angela Taylor, vice president of business development for the Lynx, said playing at Williams Arena presented a great opportunity for Minnesota’s WNBA squad to expose the sport to different people.

Minnesota has shown a strong support base of women’s basketball with the recent success of Gophers greats such as Lindsey Whalen and McCarville, who led the program to its first NCAA Final Four appearance in 2004. The Lynx said they hope to utilize that fan base to their advantage to attract more fans to the WNBA.

“This is a chance for us to expose this brand to a new type of fan base,” Taylor said.

Quinn said she played in front of 13,000 fans at Williams Arena and her greatest satisfaction came from silencing the crowd, even though this time around she might like a few extra decibels echoing through the legendary venue.

The Barn presents an interesting opportunity for Lynx players and coaches because of its lore.

“Williams Arena has so much history; it’s a great arena to play in,” Taylor said. “It’s got that old fieldhouse feel so I think a lot of people enjoy playing there.”

Minnesota (5-11) will face the first-place Monarchs (11-6) in a pivotal game to determine playoff status. The Lynx are three and a half games back of the fourth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference.

Minnesota had its two-game winning streak snapped Sunday night in Sacramento as the Monarchs defeated the Lynx 76-68. The Lynx play Phoenix tonight at the Target Center as a final warm-up for Friday’s contest.

While the prospect of returning to The Barn has left Quinn and Ohlde with rekindled collegiate memories, they remain optimistic about the opportunity to play in front of a friendly WNBA crowd.

“The fans are really supportive there, and hopefully we can fill the arena like the Gophers do,” Quinn said.

Ohlde shared similar sentiments about a return trip to a venue often deemed as a severe advantage for the home team.

“I think it will be fun,” Ohlde said. “Maybe we’ll (expand our exposure to new people) there.”