- Associated Press - Friday, June 3, 2011

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) - Lindsay Whalen grew up in Minnesota, so she knows how sports fans are suffering right now. She roots for all the pro teams in the area along with her alma mater, the University of Minnesota.

The Vikings and Timberwolves finished their seasons in last place and the Twins have the worst record in the major leagues. Gophers football and basketball also struggled mightily, leaving the local sports fan little to cheer about.

“There’s ups and downs in every franchise and every team. It’s sports. It happens,” Whalen said Thursday. “The Vikings almost went to the Super Bowl two years ago and last year they really struggled. All we can focus on is our team, being focused and putting a good team on the floor.”

With all the poor performances in the area, Whalen sees an opportunity for the Minnesota Lynx to finally get some of the spotlight that has been so difficult to garner in a crowded sports market.

She remembers a time when she was leading the Gophers to the Final Four during her college days, when the Twin Cities got behind the school’s women’s basketball program like never before. Now she hopes it can happen again at the pro level.

The franchise opens the season on Friday in Los Angeles with very high hopes. The Lynx have added No. 1 pick Maya Moore to a nucleus that includes Whalen, Seimone Augustus and Candice Wiggins.

“The Wild’s been struggling, Twins, Vikings, Timberwolves,” Augustus said. “Everyone’s kind of leaning on our shoulders. We welcome that opportunity for us to put some smiles on some people’s faces around here.”

The Lynx haven’t been to the playoffs since 2004. Injuries to Augustus and Wiggins have derailed the past two years, but everyone is healthy heading into the season opener. And the Lynx sense that people, perhaps desperately, are looking their way.

“I think just overall people around here are more, ‘Hey, when’s your first game?’” Whalen said. “Walking around and going to eat, wherever I’ve been. You feel that. I think just more attention and focus on the team. Having Maya coming in, and most people returning, it’s been good. But now we’ve got to put it on the court.”

Their home opener comes on Sunday against the Sparks.

Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve said she has been pleased by the progress she has seen from the group in training camp incorporating the rookies Moore and Amber Harris and working Augustus and Wiggins back into the fold.

“I don’t think that I could have asked for anything better in that regard,” Reeve said. “I think these guys are really good to each other. They’re selfless. If they can carry that through into the season when we start getting headlines, and who is getting headlines and who is getting print, we’ve talked about that.

“The strength of our team is that we have depth. … The situation I like is the team just wants to win.”

Just talking about the Lynx getting headlines was noteworthy in its own right.

“We want to be a winning town and we just want to be a part of that,” Reeve said. “If we can provide some relief if the Twins are struggling, then that’s great, too.”

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