Unsung hero Noga gets it done with defense, shooting

Head coach Pam Borton said guard Sari Noga is the team’s glue. Noga is second on the team in minutes per game.

Minnesota guard Sari Noga holds the ball against Iowa on Thursday, Feb. 7, 2013, at Williams Arena.

Amanda Snyder, Daily File Photo

Minnesota guard Sari Noga holds the ball against Iowa on Thursday, Feb. 7, 2013, at Williams Arena.

Samuel Gordon

Gophers junior guard Sari Noga doesn’t lead the team in any major statistical categories, and she doesn’t play the flashy brand of basketball most fans adore.

But that doesn’t mean her game isn’t effective.

Noga’s contributions, especially on defense, have helped her become an invaluable cog in head coach Pam Borton’s lineup.

She is second on the team to star guard Rachel Banham in minutes per game (33.1) and is one of three players who see regular playing time to have not fouled out of a game this season.

“She’s really the glue to our team,” Borton said. “When she’s rebounding and playing defense and knocking down a couple shots, we’re pretty good.”

Defensively, she’s often given the dubious task of guarding one of the opponent’s top perimeter players.

On offense, she’s a good spot-up shooter who helps space the floor for Banham and the Gophers’ post players.

Noga said she knew what she needed to do to play more this year. Still, she didn’t expect to play as much as she does.

“I was told … if I put that effort out and play defense and rebound, then I’d have that opportunity,” she said.

Noga only played about 18 minutes a game as a sophomore last season. A nagging back injury plagued her into the offseason, and she spent the summer months rehabbing and getting into better shape.

She said her improved conditioning has helped her on the court this season.

It shows, too. Noga has started every game in 2012-13. She’s second on the team in three-pointers made (34) and third in rebounding (4.7 per game).

Fellow junior teammate Kionna Kellogg said Noga has made significant improvements since her freshman year.

“She’s put in so much work,” Kellogg said. “She was out for almost all of preseason or summer workouts and came back and did all this work on her own.”

As one of only two upperclassmen guards on the roster, Noga has also emerged as a leader, Borton said.

“When Sari doesn’t play well, we’re probably not going to win,” Borton said. “She’s been a constant force for us, and she’s really grown her leadership skills as well.”