DULUTH, Ga. -- Last winter, when Lindsay Whalen realized her former Minnesota Gophers teammate Janel McCarville might be coming back to Minneapolis, she couldn't help but daydream a bit.
"These [WNBA Finals] are some of the nights I envisioned," Whalen said Thursday after she and McCarville helped the Lynx win the league championship with a 86-77 victory over Atlanta.
Whalen knew McCarville could join her, Maya Moore, Seimone Augustus and Rebekkah Brunson in the starting lineup and replace retiring post player Taj McWilliams-Franklin. It was a tantalizing prospect for Whalen, who said that she and McCarville as point guard-center clicked as soon as they first took the court together as Gophers.
Then … it happened: In March, the Lynx made a three-way trade with Tulsa and New York to get McCarville from the Liberty -- she hadn't played in the WNBA the past two years -- and Minnesota really did have exactly what Whalen was hoping for. The whole package.
"The chemistry with the team, how good of an off-the-ball partner Maya is," Whalen said. "How good of a shooter Seimone is. Brunson rebounding, myself driving. I just felt like [McCarville] would really fit the team well. Having this be her first championship with us is just really special."
A decade ago at this time, then-senior Whalen and then-junior McCarville were just about to start what would be a magical season for the Gophers that culminated in a Women's Final Four trip. After that, Whalen was drafted by Connecticut, where she would play six seasons before being traded back to her home state of Minnesota.
McCarville, a native of Wisconsin, was the No. 1 pick by Charlotte in the 2005 draft, and played for the Sting for two years until the franchise went out of business. She was picked up by New York in the dispersal draft, and played four seasons with the Liberty.
But she skipped the 2011 and 2012 WNBA seasons. The chance to go back to Minnesota and rejoin Whalen, though, was enough to get McCarville into the WNBA again.
While this title is the second for Whalen, Moore, Augustus and Brunson, it's the first for McCarville -- who, we must say, is a bit of a character. On court, she sometimes has a fun flair for the dramatic -- such as the between-the-legs bounce pass for an assist Thursday -- but she also does the gritty hard work, too.
All the Lynx do that, in fact. This is a team of very talented players who've committed to the less-glamorous parts of the game, and doing them right. Their versatility as defenders and responsibility to that end of the court largely flummoxed Dream star Angel McCoughtry, who had 13 points Thursday and made just 16 of 56 shots from the field in this series.
The Dream gave it their best effort Thursday, getting especially good performances from two bench players: Tiffany Hayes had 20 points to lead the Dream, and rookie Alex Bentley scored 18.
But it was still not enough against a Lynx squad that got 23 points from Moore, 15 each from Brunson and Whalen, 14 from Augustus and 10 from McCarville. And Minnesota's sixth player, Monica Wright, had the other nine points for the Lynx.
It all went just as Whalen had hoped. She and McCarville fell short of an NCAA title in 2004, as they lost to UConn in the semifinals. But nothing was able to stop them this WNBA season.