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Roster depth key for Lynx early in season

By Robb Jeffries Forum News Service MINNEAPOLIS -- For a team accustomed to sitting atop the Western Conference, the Minnesota Lynx has had it's share of adversity leading into the 2015 season. First, it was failing to advance to the WNBA Finals ...

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(Holly Peterson | Pioneer Press) Lynx forward Maya Moore, left, fights past Liberty forward Swin Cash and is fouled during the first quarter of a WNBA exhibition game Monday at Target Center in Minneapolis.

By Robb Jeffries

Forum News Service

MINNEAPOLIS - For a team accustomed to sitting atop the Western Conference, the Minnesota Lynx has had it’s share of adversity leading into the 2015 season.

First, it was failing to advance to the WNBA Finals for the first time since 2010. Then, it was learning how shorthanded the team will be to start the season.

Four of last year’s five starters will return, but Minnesota will be without starting center and former Gopher Janel McCarville. On top of that, fellow center Taj McWilliams-Franklin has retired, and Ashja Jones - who was signed to replace McCarville - is out to start the season while dealing with a blood deficiency.

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It will be up to Damiris Dantas to fill McCarville’s role in the starting lineup alongside established veterans Rebekkah Brunsen, Seimone Augustus, Lindsay Whalen and reigning league MVP Maya Moore.

The backcourt is also looking at a shortage, as draft day acquisition Anna Cruz will miss the beginning of the season to compete with Team Spain in the Eurobasket tournament. With combo guard Monica Wright still reeling from a calf injury from training camp, that leaves rookie Jennifer O’Neill as the top backup to Whalen.

Integrating new parts into the regular rotation is something Whalen has been working with some of the players that haven’t played big roles on the team.

“It’s a work in progress,” she said on a Lynx podcast interview. “With me as a vet, it’s something I’m very cognizant of with Jen O’Neill. We also have Reshanda Gray, and I’ve been talking a lot with Ashja - even though she’s not practicing or playing right now, I’ve been talking with her about things that are going to be really good once she’s out there with us.”

Despite missing key personnel, Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve said she feels good about the depth her roster has heading into the season.

“In the end, we feel we’ll have a pretty good balance on our roster,” she told the Minneapolis Star Tribune ahead of the team’s final preseason game on Monday.

To help foster that depth, Reeve allowed some of her younger players - namely, backup forward Tricia Liston - to play down the stretch in a tight game against New York in the preseason finale.

Liston rewarded her coach with a late 3-pointer to stave off the Liberty rally, giving Minnesota the 85-80 win. Minnesota led by as many as 21 points in the game.

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“Obviously, it was an up and down year for her last year,” Reeve said of Liston in a post-game press conference. “But it was fun to watch her. You can always go back to Monica Wright, but Monica’s been in those situations, and Tricia hasn’t … having her out there with three minutes left to go, having to guard players that are big and fast … that was by design.”

The Lynx open up the season Friday against former Minnesota Gopher Amanda Zahui B. and the Tulsa Shock at 7 p.m. in the Target Center.

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