Sara Scalia’s resurgence helping Gophers women’s basketball get better every day

The sophomore guard has strung together a terrific streak of scoring performances, helping the Gophers win three of their last four games.

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Emily Urfer

Guard Sara Scalia drives towards the hoop at Williams Arena on Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2020.

Tony Liebert

Sophomore guard Sara Scalia has recently emerged as a serious scoring threat for the Gophers women’s basketball team, averaging a team high of 19 points per game over the last five contests, highlighted by a career-high 30 points on Jan. 28 against Purdue.

Scalia, a Stillwater, Minnesota native, began her Gophers career with serious expectations. Nationally, she was a bit of an unknown, rated as a three-star recruit and the No. 56 guard in the country, according to ESPN. But if you followed girls high school basketball in Minnesota, you knew the Gophers were getting a special talent.

The 2019 Pioneer Press East Metro girls basketball player of the year averaged 22.8 points, 4.5 rebounds, 3.6 assists and 2.6 steals per contest, while shooting 45.5% from the field her senior year, proving the Gophers were getting a player that could contribute right away.

The 5-foot-10 guard did just that, putting together a terrific freshman campaign, earning a spot on the Big Ten All-Freshman Team after averaging 10.8 points and 4.1 rebounds per game. Minnesota was set to lose 49.1% of its scoring from the 2019-20 season, therefore Scalia was in line for an expanded role heading into this season.

Her sophomore campaign started out a little slow. Scalia missed the Gophers’ first two games while battling an injury, and she didn’t look like herself early in the season.

Things only got worse as, in her fourth game back on Jan. 3 against Wisconsin, she ran into a hard screen in the second half, forcing her out of the game completely. Later she found out she had separated her shoulder. She toughed it out and played the next game after receiving an injection and still finished with 18 points against Iowa on Jan. 6.

“The only thing I can say about her is that she is an absolute warrior,” Gophers’ head coach Lindsay Whalen said following the game. “If we continue to have players with hearts as big as hers, we’re going to be just fine.”

Scalia was then held out of the next game against Penn State, giving her a chance to fully recover from her injury. When she returned she came back with something to prove. The sophomore guard scored in double figures in each of her last seven games after failing to do so in her first three.

“She’s healthy, she’s in a good rhythm and she is able to practice,” Whalen said following Scalia’s career-high 30-point performance. “She’s getting back into basketball shape.”

When Minnesota took on Purdue, it was truly Scalia’s breakout performance. She finished the game with 30 points on 10-for-17 shooting from the field and a remarkable 6-for-10 shooting from beyond the three-point line. She carried the Gophers to a 77-72 victory, which was the team’s third consecutive win.

“I think it all kind of starts with the work I have been putting [in] since I’ve been back,” Scalia said after the game.

Throughout the season, Whalen has used the popular game Jenga as a motivational tactic for her team. The blocks exemplify building a foundation and getting better every day – something that has resonated with the group, as they’ve continued to improve week in and week out.

“We gotta just keep building every day to get better,” Scalia said. “We have to keep building the foundation, and we have started to do that.”