Two weeks ago, Lindsay Whalen of the Minnesota Lynx hustled home from practice, put on a dress, and headed for the state Capitol. Whalen was among the speakers at press conference headlined by Gov. Mark Dayton and area business leaders, all interested in bringing a men’s NCAA Final Four to the new Vikings stadium.
The yakking went on for a while. Whalen was much too classy and polite to blurt out something that crossed her mind, something so obvious it’s surprising nobody else thought of it, especially given Whalen’s legacy at the University of Minnesota.
Ahem. Anybody interested in a WOMEN’S Final Four?
Minneapolis hosted one in 1995, when the Target Center was five years old. The men’s Final Four advanced to domed stadiums in the late 1990s, but the women are still playing most years in basketball-sized arenas. The NCAA requires only a minimum capacity of 18,000.
Ted Johnson, the chief marketing officer of the Timberwolves and Lynx, confirmed the Target Center will pursue a women’s Final Four as well as WNBA and NBA All-Star Games once the $97 million renovation is complete, likely in fall 2016.
Johnson said the new seating configuration hasn’t been determined but should exceed 18,000. (The current building holds 19,346.)
The earliest available women’s Final Four date would be 2021, since the NCAA already announced finalists for 2017-20 bid cycle — New Orleans, Dallas, Houston, Pittsburgh, Tampa Bay, Nashville and Columbus.
“A renovated Target Center improves our competitive ability,” Johnson said.
Kristen Montag, a spokeswoman for Meet Minneapolis, one of the groups connected with the Final Four steering committee, told MinnPost on Thursday the committee will bid on a women’s Final Four at the Target Center. Timberwolves chief executive officer Rob Moor chairs the Meet Minneapolis board and belongs to the steering committee.
Whalen, naturally, is all for that.
“I think that’s definitely something that should be thought about and should be considered once the renovation is completed,” she said before the Lynx left for their last road trip. “I think that would be awesome, another way to bring a great event to our state and our community. That’s something that definitely be looked into, for sure, and hopefully in the future it happens.”
Lynx Coach Cheryl Reeve said she attended the 1995 Final Four here, where Connecticut beat Tennessee for its first national title. “I know from a timing standpoint, having the Super Bowl, then following up with the men’s Final Four, those are very marquee events,” she said. “I would love the same members of those committees that push for that to view the women’s Final Four.”
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The WNBA All-Star Game bidding is strictly between the team and the league, requiring no outside help. Lynx and WNBA sources confirmed mutual interest in holding a future game in Minneapolis. This year’s will be in Phoenix on July 19.
The league notices fan support. The Lynx ranked second in the league in average attendance the last two years, exceeding 9,000 in each, drawing as many as 16,404 for a July 2013 regular-season game with Phoenix. Pretty good bet an All-Star crowd here could approach or exceed that, especially if several Lynx players are in the lineup.
Lynx director of business operations Carley Knox said the team considered bidding the last four years but never formally applied. A good team in a renovated building makes an unbeatable combination.
“For sure, we want to have it,” she said. “It would be an amazing location to have it.”
For now, Lynx fans will have to settle for watching the game on television and voting for their favorite players. This explains how to vote, with a link to the All-Star ballot at the bottom.
Augustus’ knee adds to Lynx injury woes
One potential Lynx All-Star, Seimone Augustus, sat out Wednesday night’s 92-79 thrashing in Phoenix with pain in her left knee. That’s the knee where Augustus suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in June 2009, ending her WNBA season.
Augustus has been dealing with knee soreness for several weeks, even missing back-to-back practices in early June. It’s not surprising, then, that Reeve held her out on the second night of a back-to-back set on the road. But it is troubling. Augustus played 23 minutes the first night, scoring 14 points in a 94-77 rout of the Sparks in Los Angeles.
The Lynx aren’t saying how serious this is, or whether Augustus — the fourth Lynx player to deal with a knee injury this season — will sit out Friday night against Washington at the Target Center. The team spent most of Thursday travelling back from Phoenix, the flight delayed by thunderstorms here
It hasn’t helped that the Lynx played three games in three cities over four days in late May, and are four games into a stretch of six in 10 days, which concludes with home games Friday and Sunday (Indiana). The Lynx don’t play back-to-back again until the final two days of the season, Aug. 15 in San Antonio and Aug. 16 at home against Tulsa.
Without Augustus, the Lynx lose their money crunch-time shooter. They missed a lot more than that Wednesday. The 6-8 Brittney Griner, the former Baylor great in her second WNBA season, exploited the Lynx inside with 27 points and 18 rebounds, both career highs. Phoenix (8-3) handed the Lynx (9-4) their third loss in four games and slipped past them into first place in the Western Conference.
The Lynx swept all five games with Phoenix last season; this year, Phoenix won the first two. Behind Griner, the Mercury crushed the Lynx on the boards, 41-22, which won’t sit well with Reeve. We’ll see how the Lynx respond tonight.