UNLV's appearance in the 2002 NCAA women's basketball tournament seemed at the time like the beginning of the program's rise to prominence. It turned out to be the peak of former coach Regina Miller's tenure.
The Lady Rebels haven't been back to the tournament.
But Minnesota's 71-54 first-round victory over UNLV was a springboard for the Golden Gophers, and sophomore point guard Lindsay Whalen's 29-point performance made a significant statement about what lay ahead for her and her team.
"Going from 8-20 the year before to winning an NCAA Tournament game was pretty special," Whalen said Thursday. "It was my first ever time in the NCAA Tournament, and I remember that game very well."
Whalen won fans as well as games at Minnesota. The Gophers' average attendance swelled from 1,100 her freshman season to nearly 10,000 by the time she was a senior.
In 2004, the Minneapolis Star Tribune named Whalen its Sportsperson of the Year over NBA Most Valuable Player Kevin Garnett of the Timberwolves and Cy Young Award winner Johan Santana of the Twins.
In January 2010, the WNBA's Minnesota Lynx brought Whalen back to the Twin Cities as part of a trade with the Connecticut Sun.
Now Whalen is trying to make the U.S. Olympic team, which wrapped up its three-day training camp at Cox Pavilion on Thursday. She was a key bench player on last year's world championship team, averaging 5.9 points per game.
"I thought she was great," U.S. coach Geno Auriemma said. "I think that experience and the confidence that gave her I could see it here. It wasn't there when we were starting all this last year. She was very much deferring to everybody else.
"She still has a little bit of that in her, but little by little, I see that going away. I love her toughness, and I love the way she can impact the game."
However, guard is the deepest position on the U.S. roster.
"But I think what she did in the world championships is going to go a long way toward helping her in the future," he said.
Whalen, 29, has never played on an Olympic team. She might have had a good chance to make the 2008 squad but missed some training camps because of other commitments, such as planning her October 2007 wedding.
She married fellow former Gopher Ben Greve, a golfer on the Canadian Tour. They didn't have much of a honeymoon, and six days after the ceremony, Whalen was on a plane to the Czech Republic to play for her Prague team.
"It was really weird because my husband stayed back for a couple of weeks or a month maybe," Whalen said. "It was a big adjustment."
Because both are professional athletes, Whalen and her husband go long stretches without seeing each other, but they stay in touch by BlackBerry. They spend most of their time together during the EuroLeague season, when Greve makes Prague his second home.
But their hearts are still in Minnesota, where Whalen revived a program that hadn't had a winning season or appeared in the NCAA Tournament since 1994.
After routing the Lady Rebels in 2002, the Gophers reached the round of 16 the next season and the Final Four in 2004.
Contact reporter Mark Anderson at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-2914. Follow him on Twitter: @markanderson65.