UMN welcomes WNBA Finals to campus

The Lynx lost the first game of the series at Williams Arena on Sunday.

Lynx guard Lindsay Whalen dribbles the ball during the first game of the WNBA Finals at Williams Arena on Sunday, Sept. 24. The Lynx lost 85-84.

Maddy Fox

Lynx guard Lindsay Whalen dribbles the ball during the first game of the WNBA Finals at Williams Arena on Sunday, Sept. 24. The Lynx lost 85-84.

Jack Warrick

Five banners honoring women’s basketball players hang in the rafters of the Williams Arena.

One of these rafters displays former Gophers and current Lynx point guard Lindsay Whalen — who returned to her old college court for the opening game of the WNBA finals Sunday.

However, the Gophers legend couldn’t help the Lynx pull off the victory. Minnesota lost 85-84 after the Sparks’ Chelsea Gray hit a jump shot for the lead with two seconds left.

“They got the upper hand in the first five minutes obviously,” said Lynx head coach Cheryl Reeve. “We kind of lost trust in what we we were trying to get done.”

The Target Center — where the Lynx usually play — has been under renovation in preparation for the Minnesota Timberwolves season. The only other place a WNBA finals could be held was Williams Arena.

Since joining the Lynx, Whalen and the team have been the best team in the WNBA — winning the championship three times in the past six years and making it to the WNBA finals five times in the seven years Whalen has been with the Lynx.

“Hats off to Glen Taylor, owner of the Minnesota Lynx and Timberwolves for putting air conditioning up in here,” said WNBA President Lisa Borders. “We’re thrilled to be here, it’s an interesting arena.”

Williams Arena was the obvious choice for a WNBA finals with the size — 14,625 seats — and the Twin Cities location important for Lynx fans.

After taking the semifinals series 3-0 over the Washington Mystics in the semifinals, the Lynx started the finals on Sunday against the Los Angeles Sparks — a team that beat the them in the final seconds of the finals last season.

The Los Angeles Sparks were seeded at No. 2 in the playoffs with the second-best regular season record of 26-8. The Lynx were seeded No. 1 with a regular season record of 27-7. 

Both teams were undefeated in the playoffs after sweeping their respective semifinals.

Whalen led the Gophers in scoring every year she was with the team from 2000-04 and helped the Gophers to the first NCAA tournament final four berth of program history.

The Lynx were down by 26 points in the first quarter before coming back and taking the lead twice in the final minutes with help from Whalen and her talent to pass the ball, finishing with a team-high six assists. 

“I played here in college and it’s a very unique arena and we were glad for the support we got today,” Whalen said. “A lot of our fans from the Lynx are Gopher fans as well so it’s a good crossover.”

The Lynx will play at Williams Arena for game two of the WNBA finals on Tuesday at 7 p.m.

“I think only a couple times we were like , what was the call or something like that,” Gray said. “But it’s a great arena, great environment.”

Sparks player Nneka Ogwumike said the team is used to playing in different environments.

“It has not felt like we were ever in a different place,” Ogwumike said. “I think that’s remarkable. It’s great for the women’s game to see all the fans out here.”