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Gophers women’s basketball eyes NCAA tournament

Minnesota retained its entire starting lineup from the 2023-2024 season while adding transfers and freshmen.
Image by CJ Bonk
The Gophers finished with a 5-13 record in the Big Ten last season.

The foundational players of the Gopher women’s basketball team will return next season as they hope to earn their first NCAA tournament berth since 2018. 

Mara Braun, Mallory Heyer and former Minnesota Daily photographer Amaya Battle were part of Minnesota’s highest-ranked recruiting class. The three looked to change the program’s trajectory while playing for former head coach Lindsey Whalen.

Niamya Holloway was the fourth recruit from the 2022 class but missed her freshman season after she tore her ACL in the summer leading up to it.

Through a coaching change and the development of Name, Image and Likeness (NIL), the group stuck together and built on the foundation they laid. 

In the NIL era, other programs can contact players about transferring schools for monetary purposes. Gophers head coach Dawn Plitzuweit said Braun was someone who was “contacted and reached out to quite a bit,” but Plitzuweit praised her maturity, and the star guard decided to stay in Minnesota.

Braun was the Gopher’s leading scorer last season and said the team’s expectations are similar to those they set at the start of last season.

“We really wanted to get to the (NCAA) Tournament,” Braun said. “This year, that’s just a big goal for us that we really, really want to accomplish.”

Braun said the 2022 class came in wanting to ensure local players stayed in Minnesota.

“To have all these people coming back and realizing that maybe they shouldn’t have left in the first place is kind of fun for us,” Braun said

The Gophers added former four-star recruit Taylor Woodson out of Minnetonka through the transfer portal. Woodson played with Battle at Hopkins High School and on the AAU circuit with North Tartan. 

Minnesota also added former Nebraska three-star center Annika Stewart, who played with Braun and sophomore Brynn Senden at Wayzata High School.

With new talents and veteran players getting more experienced, Plitzuweit looks to maximize her team’s potential. She said their summer goals involve honing in on offensive and defensive efficiency, ball-handling and passing.

Plitzuweit said improving in these areas will allow the team to play faster and be more versatile.

The Gophers want to build on their postseason run from last season in the Women’s National Invitation Tournament. During that run, Plitzuweit said she added MC Hammer’s song “Gaining Momentum” to the playlist to convey a message to the team.

“That stretch allowed us as players to gain momentum (and) as a program,” Plitzuweit said. “Playing in different environments, very challenging environments was something that’s really good for us.”

The Gophers finished their season with a 20-16 overall record, 5-13 in the Big Ten, in Plitzuweit’s first season at the helm. It was the first time the Gophers won 20 or more games in a season since 2018-19.

The group is already feeling more comfortable and confident in the Plitzuweit system. Battle said the returning players understand Plitzuweit’s expectations for practices.

“We can help the new people coming in and the freshman coming in and lead them through that,” Battle said. “We got that year behind, we had our learning experience, so it will help us a lot.”

The Gophers will return its top five players in minutes, points and rebounds from last season. 

The team is eager to use its experience from last season to finish next season with a better conference record.

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