close
close

Gophers basketball team sets sights on NCAA tournament – ​​The Minnesota Daily

The founding players of the Gophers women's basketball team will return next season hoping to secure their first NCAA Tournament berth since 2018.

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

Niamya Holloway was the fourth recruit in the 2022 class, but missed her first season after a cruciate ligament tear the summer before.

Through a Coach change and the development of Name, Image and Likeness (NIL), the group stayed together and built on the foundation it had laid.

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

Braun was the Gophers' leading scorer last season and said the team's expectations are similar to those at the start of last season.

“We really wanted to go to the (NCAA) tournament,” Braun said. “This year, it's just a big goal for us that we really want to achieve.”

Braun said the class of 2022 came with the goal of ensuring that homegrown players stay in Minnesota.

“It’s fun for us to see all these people come back and realize that maybe they shouldn’t have left,” Braun said.

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

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

With new talents and experienced players gaining more experience, Plitzuweit wants to maximize her team's potential. She said her goals for the summer are to improve efficiency in offense and defense, ball handling and passing.

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

The Gophers want to Postseason run from last season in the Women's National Invitation Tournament. During that run, Plitzuweit added MC Hammer's song “Gaining momentum” to the playlist to send a message to the team.

“This phase has given us momentum as players and as a program,” Plitzuweit said. “Playing in different environments, in very challenging environments, has been something that's really been good for us.”

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

The group already feels more comfortable and confident in the Plitzuweit system. Battle said the returning players understand Plitzuweit's expectations for training.

“We can help the freshmen and the freshmen and guide them through this,” Battle said. “We've had this year, we've had our learning experience, so it's going to help us a lot.”

The Gophers return their top five players from last season in terms of minutes played, points and rebounds.

The team wants to use its experiences from last season to finish next season with a better conference result.