MINNEAPOLIS — A black Adidas jersey with “Osage Casino” splashed across the chest wasn’t the only fresh visual supplied by Candice Wiggins upon her return to the Target Center.
Try a one-of-a-kind, unidentifiable hairdo and expanded production from what the Minnesota Lynx grew used to in the shooting guard’s final two years in the Twin Cities.
And instead of horsing around with her former fun-loving teammates, Wiggins was crashing into them.
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Sunday’s 69-55 Lynx victory marked Wiggins’ first trip back to Minnesota since being dealt to the Tulsa Shock in March. It was hard to miss the 5-foot-11, 147-pound sixth-year pro, what with her lengthy blonde braids jutting out of an intricately-knotted bun and a 14-point performance only a veteran Lynx fan would view as unsurprising.
“She didn’t do that last year,” a home supporter snapped after one of Wiggins’ three successful 3-pointers.
Minnesota had seen its third overall pick in the 2008 WNBA Draft in another uniform once before, a June 14 victory at Tulsa. But this was the Lynx kingdom’s first look at a rejuvenated Wiggins.
It came with applause during her pregame introduction and boos when she stepped to the foul stripe.
“The fans definitely gave her a warm welcome,” said Minnesota forward Maya Moore, who tied Seimone Augustus for a team-high 22 points and connected on several key outside shots. “She’s somebody who brings a lot of energy. . . . She’s a great competitor, so I think that’s what the fans appreciated.
“It happens; you’re gonna end up playing against former teammates all the time.”
In Tulsa’s 13th consecutive loss to the Lynx, Wiggins scored 14 points on 3-of-5 3-point shooting and chipped in four rebounds and three assists. The Stanford grade came in averaging 10.2 points per game — her best in three years.
Wiggins’ pseudo-homecoming came with a bout of nostalgia, she said.
“It was like going back down memory lane,” Wiggins said. “Minnesota’s kind of like the ‘Cheers’ bar for me. At times you just want to go where everybody knows your name.”
During her first three professional seasons, she averaged 14.2 points per game (that includes an abbreviated 2010 campaign where she played only eight games due to multiple injuries). Coming back to a roster including 2011 first-round draft pick Moore, a continually solid Augustus and always-steady Lindsay Whalen — acquired in a 2010 trade — Wiggins’ role as a go-to scorer became diminished.
Her final two years in Minneapolis, she produced just 6.4 points per game. In 2011, she only saw the floor 17.1 minutes a contest.
Then forward Taj McWilliams-Franklin retired, and the Lynx were in sudden need of a more formidable post presence.
In a deal based partially upon that requirement and Wiggins’ desire for a change of scenery, Minnesota sent her to Tulsa in exchange for the Shock’s 2014 second-round draft pick. The three-team deal also brought center Janel McCarville in from New York.
With McCarville starting in the post and Wiggins knocking down treys from the outside, Sunday exhibited a move that’s proved beneficial for both sides.
“My philosophy on any transaction is over time, and I really think it’s kind of early to evaluate that,” Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve said. “I just know for us, we had a real need in the post here. Janel’s certainly evolving, but at this point I would probably shy away from making an evaluation of what people like to do, ‘Who won the trade?’ It was out of necessity.”
Said Wiggins: “I learned a lot my last two seasons here, being a part of a winning team. But yeah, you know, definitely on the court, production’s gone up.”
Her past experience didn’t stop her from bumping into jerseys similar to the one she used to wear — she mentioned seeing a lot of them in the stands — and scrapping against her longtime companions.
In the fourth quarter, a hard Wiggins drive down the left side of the lane yielded a collision with guard/forward Monica Wright. Wiggins even traded elbows with McCarville early in the third quarter.
“Nothing personal, you know,” Wiggins said with a grin. “Just trying to get to the basket. Get out of my way.”
And the hair?
“I just felt like I had to have some new swag coming into the Target Center,” Wiggins said.
But Wiggins, for all her flash and enthusiasm, picked the wrong time to cross her old team.
The Lynx returned home following a three-game road swing capped by their worst defeat in two years, a 28-point drubbing Friday at Los Angeles.
They trailed by as many as eight before Moore’s four-point play from the left corner sparked a 17-3 run spanning the first and second quarters that put Minnesota ahead for good. The MVP candidate knocked down additional 3s at the end of the second and third quarters, Augustus went 9-for-13 from the field, and Rebekkah Brunson tallied her third double-double of the season with 11 points and 11 boards.
“Just being focused to make the adjustments that we need, being unselfish enough to look inside of yourself to see how you can help the team be better,” Moore said of the Lynx’s ability to rebound emotionally. “Everybody’s doing just a little bit more.”
After combining for 17 points and undergoing a mass benching in the third quarter of Friday’s 87-59 setback, the two-time defending Western Conference champs’ starters scored 82 this time around.
The real chance to bounce back, though, comes Friday at the Target Center against the same Sparks team that manhandled the Western Conference-leading Lynx and sits only a half-game back of them in the standings.
Her former team’s quest to remain at the top was evident Sunday, Wiggins said.
“You could tell they were really upset about their last game,” Wiggins said. “They really had a statement to make.”