Gophers (and game) will miss Whalen, but must go on

Minnesota guard Lindsay Whalen has this mesmerizing way of flying through the lane, contorting her body, throwing up a shot, hitting the floor and bouncing back up.

You'd see this so many times the last four seasons and think, "That child's made of rubber. She's a human superball.''

Some players are great, and yet never quite capture your imagination. And some are great, and you can't take your eyes off them.

You know which one Whalen is. Not just for Minnesota fans, who've watched her lead their program from abyss to big-time contender. But for everybody who enjoys women's basketball.

Of course, you also know now that Whalen broke two bones in her right (shooting) hand during Thursday's loss to Ohio State. Whalen was chasing a shot she had blocked, got sandwiched by two Buckeyes, and landed on her hand. One of those weird, inexplicable things.

We always call these "freak'' accidents, as if there's really another kind of accident. I could call it something else, but that would be the 4,578th time since Jan. 1 that I've violated my New Year's resolution to stop swearing. All of the sport is hurt when someone like Whalen is hurt.

Whalen is projected to be out four-to-six weeks. There's an outside chance, then, that she'll be back for the NCAA Tournament. The Gophers will have to do as best they can without Whalen, the program's all-time scoring leader.

It probably feels to the Gophers and their fans like hearing somebody say, "Do the best you can breathing without any lungs for the next month or so.'' Whalen's absence changes Minnesota's style of play in just about every aspect there is.

But what is the old saying? When you're going through hell, keep going?

Minnesota has no choice. The Big Ten is a pitiless grind, and the Gophers have to find a way to keep this from crushing them.

Whalen is a senior, a Kodak All-American, a Minnesota native, a coach's dream, a former ice hockey player, a pretty good golfer, an accomplished practical joker, a terrific kid. She's as much a delight off the court as she is on. She's the stuff NCAA Tournament stories are made of.

As much as she's hurting emotionally, she'll now take on the role of lifting everybody else's spirits, trying to help her team that way until ...

There's still a chance she'll be on the court for the Gophers again. Bones are funny things. Whalen's as tough as they come.

Here's hoping the "superball'' bounces back as quickly as possible.

Mechelle Voepel is a regular contributor to ESPN.com's women's basketball coverage. She can be reached at mvoepel@kcstar.com.