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Gophers struggle to score in WNIT championship game, lose 69-50

The Gophers fell short against St. Louis without their leading scorer but feel good about their future.
Image by CJ Bonk
Coach Dawn Plitzuweit on Feb. 28. The Gophers ended their season 20-16 after playing in the WNIT championship game.

The Gophers women’s basketball team, attempting to fight through their poor shooting performance, did not recover their lead in the first quarter. 

The team lost their first Women’s National Invitation Tournament (WNIT) championship game on Saturday, 69-50.

Throughout the game, the Gophers struggled to score from anywhere on the court. The team made 30 of 59 attempts from the field and 4 of 28 from beyond the 3-point line.

Minnesota head coach Dawn Plitzuweit said before the game that St. Louis would be a tough team to defeat. The Billikens roster of 13 athletes included four graduate students, two seniors and three juniors.

“They have the ability to frustrate teams,” Plitzuweit said. “They’re very disciplined.”

Minnesota played their third consecutive WNIT match without leading scorer Mara Braun despite her return to the starting lineup in the second round of the tournament. Braun played 28 minutes in the Super 16 match against North Dakota State University and did not return to the court in the following matches.

The Gophers scored over 60 points in the WNIT matches without Braun but fell 10 points short of that mark against St. Louis. 

The Gophers entered First Community Arena in Edwardsville, Illinois, surrounded by a sea of blue and white with a sprinkle of maroon and gold throughout the crowd.

The arena was “somewhat neutral in nature for” Minnesota and St. Louis, “just a little farther way for us,” Plitzuweit said.

The WNIT offered the Gophers an opportunity to strengthen their abilities on the court as well as their experiences off of it. The team traveled for three of their five tournament games.

Gophers sophomore guard Amaya Battle compared the travel-heavy series to the team’s trip to Europe last August.

“There was no one else we could really talk to,” Battle said before the game. “We’re all just stuck within our own bubble, even closer than we would be if we were on campus.”

Before the WNIT, the Gophers initiated their offensive momentum in the first game of the Big Ten Tournament when Battle scored a career-high 32 points. She remained consistent in scoring, averaging 17 points in the first four matches of the tournament.

However, Battle’s shots were not falling throughout the title game and she finished scoreless for the first time this season.

The day before the championship, Battle said she thought about how far “Dawny P,” her nickname for Plitzuweit, took the team in the postseason.

“Dawny P came and just seeing where she’s taken us and where we are now, it’s crazy,” Battle said. “It’s crazy where we are.” 

Last season, the Gophers lost in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament against Penn State. The following day Lindsay Whalen stepped down as head coach for the Gophers.

Even with a loss in the title game, sophomore Mallory Heyer said the team’s postseason run built momentum for next season and the extra games helped her grow as a player.

“We had some really great practices,” Heyer said before the Saturday game. “We did a lot of competing against each other playing one on one and I think that just really helped me grow my game.”

The Gophers will have two new athletes joining them on the court for the 2024-25 season. Freshmen guards McKenna Johnson and Victoria McKinney signed with the University of Minnesota and will be rostered next season.

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