Whalen, Beard know each other’s ways

Dan Miller

NORFOLK, Va. – Minnesota’s Lindsay Whalen and Duke’s Alana Beard spent last summer forming a powerful backcourt on USA’s young women’s basketball national team. The two seniors combined forces to win the gold medal at the FIBA World Championships.

After seeing each other’s abilities, it became evident to both that it would not be the last time they would be together on the same court.

They were right.

At 6 p.m. today, the former temporary teammates will meet on the court at Ted Constant Convocation Center, both three games away from a domestic prize – the NCAA championship.

In the Elite Eight matchup between top-seeded Duke (30-3) and seventh-seeded Minnesota (24-8), both players know exactly what their respective teams can expect.

“She can get her shot off whenever she wants,” Whalen said of the 5-foot-11-inch Beard. “She is definitely athletic and she is long.”

Beard said she had a good chance to see Whalen’s abilities firsthand playing alongside her over the summer.

“Lindsay’s game is so impressive,” Beard said of Minnesota’s 5-foot-9-inch guard. “You have to keep your eyes on her at all times, because if not, you are going to miss a great play.”

The two All-Americans have shown their abilities all season, and both are now finalists for all three national college player of the year awards.

Minnesota assistant coach Melissa McFerrin, who heads the Gophers’ scouting of opponents, saw the similarities in the two players’ games Sunday as Duke beat Louisiana Tech 63-49 in a Sweet 16 matchup.

“If you replaced (Beard’s) post-up game for three-point shots, you would have Lindsay Whalen,” McFerrin said.

Both Whalen and Beard, who were born five days apart (Whalen is older), top a class of seniors who have bumped up the level of play in women’s basketball. Beard and Whalen’s exciting styles have helped bring more attention to the sport than all of its tournaments being nationally televised for the first time this year.

Now, that pool is down to eight teams, which includes Duke and Minnesota. The different paths the two programs have taken to get there also illuminate the differences in the teams’ stars.

Beard has led legendary, top-ranked Duke to the Elite Eight this year as she and the Blue Devils look for their third-straight Final Four appearance.

Whalen is rallying the 24th-ranked Gophers on an unprecedented charge that has advanced them to the Elite Eight for the first time in school history.

“Alana is a very much more scoring-minded guard where Lindsay is a create-minded guard – create opportunities for other people,” McFerrin said.

Whalen has turned Minnesota, a program which only four years ago went 8-20, into a team that is one step away from a college dreamland – the Final Four.

Whalen said this is where the current difference lies between her and her Duke counterpart. She said there is no pressure felt in Minnesota’s locker room.

“No one really expected us to do a whole lot,” Whalen said. “I don’t think anyone, besides our team, thought we would get out of Minneapolis. We are just playing and having fun.”

Beard and her fellow seniors have been in two Final Fours, but have not made it into an NCAA championship game.

Whalen’s and the Gophers’ eyes are on the prize, but they also like the newly paved road they are creating.

“Obviously, we want to win and get down to business tomorrow night,” Whalen said. “But we are enjoying the whole process and the opportunity that we have.”