Lindsay Whalen is no stranger to entertaining huge crowds in the state of Minnesota.
Before her retirement from the WNBA this summer, Whalen played nine seasons with the Minnesota Lynx, where she won four championships, and her college career was spent with the Minnesota Golden Gophers. (She played the first six seasons of her professional career with the Connecticut Sun.) Whalen was named Gophers’ head coach prior to her final season with the Lynx, taking on double duty all summer.
When Whalen got the chance to show off her coaching chops for the first time in Friday’s season opener, fans showed up for her and the team — 14,625 of them, a sellout — setting a new program record. The previous record? 14,363, set during Whalen’s senior season at Minnesota.
Naturally, the Golden Gophers sent the crowd home happy, beating New Hampshire easily, 70-47.
But the story isn’t that Minnesota has been hurting for a season-opening win and they finally got one; they’ve won their last 10 season openers. It’s that Whalen, once the face of the program as a player and now once again as the head coach, represents an era of resurgence for a Minnesota team that’s been relatively inconsistent of late, as far as NCAA Tournament appearances go. The Golden Gophers made it to the Big Dance just twice in the past nine seasons.
But for three seasons in a row, in the early 2000s, Minnesota made it to the second round, then the Sweet Sixteen, then the Final Four. If anyone knows what it’s like to get a team that deep into the tournament, it’s someone who completed on all three of those squads: Lindsay Whalen, herself.
Minnesota was rewarded for their impressive efforts against New Hampshire in this week’s AP Poll, where they slid in at No. 25. This was also thanks to preseason No. 21 Duke losing its opener to another Big Ten team, Northwestern, which subsequently dropped the Blue Devils out of the top 25.
The Golden Gophers will hit the road for the first time this season for a Wednesday night showdown against the Xavier Musketeers. While Xavier was decisively picked to finish last in the Big East this season, the Musketeers are 2-0 so far, with both wins coming on their home court. Minnesota should have the edge, but all eyes will be on Whalen once more as she faces her first big test as a head coach.
Golden Gophers in action
No. 25 Minnesota Golden Gophers at Xavier Musketeers
When: Wednesday, Nov. 14, at 7 p.m. ET
Where: Cintas Center, Cincinnati, OH
How to watch: Xavier All-Access
Notes: Another area that Lindsay Whalen knows a little something about? Being in the AP Poll. With Minnesota’s debut in the poll this season, their first appearance since 2015, Whalen became the 12th person in women’s basketball history to see herself in the top 25 as both a player and a coach at the same university. Whalen’s Golden Gophers were ranked for the majority of her college career.
Elsewhere in the Big Ten:
- No. 9 Maryland visits George Washington tonight (7 p.m. ET, ESPN+). The Terps beat Dayton on Sunday, 82-71, with freshmen Taylor Mikesell and Shakira Austin (who was named Big Ten Freshman of the Week) continuing to assert themselves at the onset of their college careers.
- Northwestern broke in their new arena with an 84-59 rout of No. 21 Duke on Sunday. Thanks to the win, the Wildcats received votes in this week’s AP Poll, with future meetings against No. 15 DePaul and No. 19 Marquette opening the door for a top-25 appearance if they can keep up the intensity. Northwestern hosts Illinois-Chicago on Thursday (8 p.m. ET, BTN+).
- With a 73-44 victory over Central Connecticut State on Tuesday, Rutgers head coach C. Vivian Stringer became the sixth coach in Division I basketball — men’s or women’s — to reach 1,000 wins. She’ll go for No. 1,001 when Rutgers travels to face UNC Charlotte on Friday (5 p.m. ET, C-USA TV).
VICTORY! #RHoops 73, CCSU 44 @cvivianstringer becomes the 6th head coach in NCAA history to join the elite 1,000 career victory club!— Rutgers W.Basketball (@RutgersWBB) November 14, 2018
#DetermineRDestiny #CVS1K #HERstoryCreated pic.twitter.com/zBflJZA4pm
- No. 13 Iowa beat Western Kentucky 104-67 on Tuesday night behind Big Ten Preseason Player of the Year Megan Gustafson’s 29 points on 13-of-13 shooting. As a team, Iowa shot 68.9 percent from the floor and 46.4 percent from three. The Hawkeyes host North Carolina Central on Saturday (1 p.m. ET, BTN+).
- The new-look Ohio State showed that it’s not quite ready for top-tier competition, losing to UConn for the fifth straight time, 85-53, on Sunday. The Buckeyes will try to regroup from a 1-2 start when they visit Sacramento State on Friday (11:30 p.m. ET, Watch Big Sky).
- Speaking of Lindsay Whalen’s ties to the state of Minnesota, the story of her growing up there and representing the state at all levels of basketball appears in Patrick C. Borzi’s new book, Minnesota Made Me.