Gopher Women’s Basketball: Embracing the Challenge

Maya_aflakpi

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Facing Adversity Without Mara Braun
By Maya Aflakpi

In a season marked by resilience and a gut-wrenching setback, the Minnesota Gophers find themselves navigating uncharted waters as they strive to maintain their footing in the Big Ten Conference race.

The pivotal moment came on January 28th during a hard-fought game against Illinois when sophomore star Mara Braun's three-pointer echoed through the State Farm Arena. However, as she landed, she came down on an Illinois player's foot, causing her to collapse in pain. The player should not have been in her landing area. What followed was a whirlwind of uncertainty as Braun's foot injury, which required surgery, sidelined her indefinitely, leaving a void in the heart of the Gophers' team.

Braun is one of the top players in the country, averaging an impressive 17.8 points per game, which ranks fourth in the Big Ten Conference, while shooting a career-high 37 percent from three-point range. Her offensive ability is crucial to Minnesota's success, while her persistence and leadership qualities have endeared her to teammates and fans. In a recent news interview, First-year Coach Dawn Plitzuweit stated, "Mara is someone who sees the game at a really high level. This allows her an opportunity to see it even with a different set of lenses."

Braun's absence has a significant effect, beyond just the statistics. Following the defeat to Penn State on January 31st, junior center Sophie Hart expressed how much they miss Mara and wish her a speedy recovery. She brings hope to the team's season, saying, "We still have a lot of quality players on this team, and people are starting to find their new roles, and we are banding together."

Graduate guard Janay Sanders has recently earned a spot in the Gophers' starting lineup, and in the past two games, she has achieved back-to-back season highs. In the most recent matchup against the Spartans, she scored 23 points. Since joining the starting lineup, Sanders has made an impressive 62.5 percent of her shots from the floor (15-of-24). She has particularly excelled in driving to the basket, leading the team in fouls drawn at 3.9 per game this season. Both the Gophers' team and fans are proud of her performance.

Currently on a four-game losing streak after their defeat to Michigan State on Monday, Braun's absence has significantly impacted this Gopher team. Braun is an invaluable asset to this team. Nevertheless, the Gopher's have shown considerable growth under Coach Plitzuweit's guidance. Last season, they averaged 17.7 turnovers per game, ranking 291st in the NCAA and 13th in the Big Ten. This season, they've improved to 12.9 turnovers per game through 21 games, now ranking 20th nationally and 3rd in the Big Ten.

With statistics like these, fans are hopeful that the Gopher's can overcome adversity. They need to "find a way,” as their team would say. While some fans have faith, others have completely written them off. However, this is a strong team. Grace Grocholski is the only freshman in the Big Ten this season to have produced two 19-point games against conference rivals (Michigan & Indiana). Mallory Heyer ranks fourth in the Big Ten in rebounding with 8.1 rpg, while Amaya Battle is 4th in the Big Ten assists with 5.4 helpers per game and stands 11th in steals with 1.8 spg.

The Gophers have a lot to prove and put up a good fight until the end against Michigan State. The Gophers outshot the Spartans from the floor but could not overcome 18 turnovers that led to 19 points for Michigan State.

The Gophers are set to face the 5th-ranked Ohio State at Williams Arena tomorrow at 8 PM. Ohio State's nine-game winning streak follows their lone Big Ten defeat to Michigan in Ann Arbor. Leading the Buckeyes offensively is Jacy Sheldon, averaging 17.9 points per game with a 50.5% field goal rate. Sheldon also shines defensively, leading the Big Ten with 2.3 steals per game. As of February 5, Ohio State ranks second in NCAA turnover margin at 7.6. They excel at drawing fouls, averaging 16 attempts and 22.1 free throw attempts per game. Their offensive output of 81.1 points per game places them 17th nationally and fourth in the Big Ten. This team is unquestionably a powerhouse.

Can the Gophers rise to the challenge and defeat Ohio State?
 
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