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Gophers women’s basketball slowly acclimating without leading scorer

Grace Grocholski stepped up on Saturday with a career-high in points, leading the Gophers to their first win without starting guard Mara Braun.
Image by University of Minnesota Athletics (courtesy)
Mara Braun shoots the basketball while guarded by Chloe Moore-Mcneil on Jan. 17, 2024.

The Gophers women’s basketball team earned their first win without leading scorer Mara Braun on Saturday against Northwestern.

Braun suffered a foot injury on the road against Illinois, putting her out indefinitely. Without their starting guard, the Gophers lost four consecutive games and were on a six-game losing streak before Saturday.

Freshman Grace Grocholski showed off her shooting abilities against Northwestern, filling the void left by Braun. 

Grocholski has 61 made 3-point field goals on the season and averages 2.4 per game, fifth in the Big Ten conference. The conference named Grocholski as Big Ten freshman of the week, her third time this season. 

Head coach Dawn Plitzuweit said Grocholski was battling a minor ankle injury but is getting better, leading Grocholski to put up higher numbers on the scoreboard.

“We haven’t told anybody [about her ankle] and I think she’s getting healthy again,” Plitzuweit said.

She had the ball for the first time in the game on Saturday and hit a 3-pointer. She did the same the second time she got the ball and the third.

“When the first one goes in it’s a lot easier to make the rest of them,” Grocholski said.

Grocholski’s scoring led her to a career-high 27 points. Janay Sanders also hit her first 3-pointer of the season late in the fourth quarter. 

Grocholski performed a finger gun motion and said, “[Janay] was doing this all game.”

“I made sure to do that when she scored,” Grocholski said.

Plitzuweit attributed the team’s success on Saturday to their toughness, which was not always the case after Braun’s injury.

“[We] played a really bad third-quarter of basketball, and it was really caused by how bad we were offensively,” Plitzuweit said in a post-game press conference on Feb. 8.

The Gophers had eight turnovers alone in the third quarter against Ohio State and made a series of bad decisions. Plutzuweit said the team would pass to someone running to the hoop simply because they were cutting and not because they were open.

Plitzuweit said the team failed to pass the ball to their teammates and did not capitalize on scoring opportunities.

“That was a really tough stretch of basketball,” Plitzuweit said.

Janay Sanders stepped into the starting lineup for the Gophers in the first game after Braun’s injury. Sanders said the team is slowly finding its “stride” again.

“[Braun] was a big part of our team, it’s tough, but adversity hits every team,” Sanders said. “This is when it hit us.”

The Gophers’ matchup against Ohio State was the second time the team saw Braun since her surgery.

Even though Braun was not on the court, she made her presence felt by being an active voice on the bench during timeouts, according to Sanders.

“She’s coaching us up,” Sanders said. “Sometimes you don’t want to hear from a coach, but having it come from a player or someone that you’re connected to makes it that much easier to listen to.”

Braun’s injury forced the Gophers to adjust not only their shooting but also their centers, who are fed the ball from guards like Braun.

Sophie Hart said each guard moves a little differently, so she adjusts how she receives the ball from guards that are not Braun.

“It’s got a little bit more strategic to play around with that,” Hart said.

With Braun still out and four games left on the schedule, Plitzuweit said Saturday’s win was huge for her team. She said the team had a “really good” last few practices leading up to the game.

The next matchup for the Gophers is Tuesday against Wisconsin, who have the same conference record as the Gophers. Minnesota, with Braun, lost to Wisconsin five days before she suffered her injury.

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