MINNEAPOLIS — The Minnesota Lynx have been sitting for a week while the rest of the WNBA had started the season, in an almost out-of-sight, out-of-mind situation that’s rare for a team coming off consecutive trips to the Finals.
The league has opened with a pair of undefeated starts in Chicago and Atlanta, the reigning champions in Indiana and the fascinating debuts of rookies Brittney Griner and Elena Delle Donne. The Lynx, off back-to-back seasons of owning the league’s best record, had to wait to prove there’s still an pecking order in the WNBA’s Western Conference and it starts in Minnesota.
“We were kind of like caged animals just waiting to get unleashed,” Maya Moore said, building of the team’s “Unleashed” theme. “I believe that’s our theme this year. Thank you. That’s really what happened. We were just unleashed tonight. So far, we’re pleased with how that went.”
Saturday, Minnesota showed teams would be wise not to forget about the Lynx. Minnesota didn’t add any big names — except for a local one in Janel McCarville — to draw attention. The Lynx weren’t the returning champions as they were last season after winning the 2011 title. Their 2013 season, with its late start, has been a quiet one. When they finally stepped on the court, they ran away from the Connecticut Sun in a 90-74 win. Moore had 26 points — 18 in the first half — seven rebounds and five assists to lead the way.
“I told the team it was a great start to the 2013 journey,” coach Cheryl Reeve said. “It’s been a long time since we’ve played a game. As you could probably tell, we were pretty excited to play. I thought we played extremely hard. One of our focal points in that game, we knew the effort would be really high. We wanted the execution to be coupled with that and I thought for the most part, we did that.”
Seimone Augustus was scoreless in the first quarter and then scored 20 points for Minnesota, which is actually the league’s second-youngest team behind Tulsa at an average age of 26.07-years-old. But the established guard and the core of a team that has won 27 games each of the past two seasons is still intact with Augustus, Moore, Lindsay Whalen and Rebekkah Brunson.
Moore helped the team jump to a double-digit, first-quarter lead and then Augustus took over from there. The Lynx took a 5-4 lead on a free throw from Whalen and never trailed again. Moore’s strong finish to last season has put her among the early picks for a possible MVP this season, but Augustus is still around providing her scoring ways as well, and she added four assists Saturday.
“The coach kind of calls us bookends,” Augustus said. “She got one end and I’ll take the other half. She had first half today, first quarter she took over. And then the second half, I picked it up and took over.”
McCarville is one of the new additions, reuniting with former University of Minnesota teammate Whalen. The team also has three rookies, but McCarville steps into the starting center spot vacated after Taj McWilliams-Franklin retired. McCarville didn’t take a shot, but made an impact with three blocks, three rebounds, three assists and two steals.
“I don’t know that there is a player that fits in better to what we try to do from the elbows,” Reeve said of McCarville. “Janel sees things that we don’t see that maybe the play was designed for something else. She will see something else. She has a great group of personnel around her that are tremendous cutters at the basket.”
The Lynx had been waiting to finally take the stage. Saturday’s performance shows they’re not ready to exit the spotlight quite yet either.
“I think it was a big buildup of energy over the last few weeks, just kind of seeing other teams play,” Augustus said. “You’re like, ‘Wow, we’re ready to get on the floor.’ And tonight those first five minutes were just so high, everybody was kind of gassed waiting for that timeout. But once we settled in, you could see what Lynx basketball is going to be like this year.”
The league will take notice with a convincing win against the Sun. In the meantime, Minnesota is OK with the eyes of the league looking elsewhere for the time being.
“Its really what we needed,” Reeve said. “We’ve got the expectations really, really high for this group. So, we’re trying to meet our own expectations and not judge ourselves against a two-year run that was second-best in league history. So, yeah, all the cameras being in Phoenix, Chicago, really it comes at a good time for us.”