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Battle steps up with Braun sitting out, leads U to WNIT semifinals

For the second consecutive game, this time on the road, the Gophers women's basketball team won a game because Amaya Battle wouldn't let it lose.

With the offense struggling to score and the Gophers trailing by a point with seven minutes left, Battle took over.

The result was a 65-54 victory at Wyoming in a WNIT quarterfinal with leading scorer Mara Braun back on the sideline because of a foot injury. The Gophers (19-15) will play at Troy in a tournament semifinal game Wednesday night in Troy, Ala.

Battle scored 29 points. Of those, 14 came during the fourth quarter, including all nine of a 9-2 run over 2½ minutes that put the Gophers in control for good against the Cowgirls (18-15) in Laramie, Wyo.

"It was a matter of, 'We have to get it done,'" Battle said. "We had to do whatever it takes to get it done. And that kind of kicked it into gear."

Here's how it broke down:

— With 6:53 left, Battle sank two free throws.

— With 6:22 remaining, Battle hit a midrange jumper.

— With 5:52 left, Battle made one of two free-throw tries.

— After the Cowgirls scored, Battle was fouled and made both free throws with 5:14 left.

— Finally, with 4:37 remaining, Battle's step-back jumper made it 53-47.

Battle needed 25 field-goal attempts to score those 29 points. But she made nine of 12 free-throw tries and added four rebounds and four assists. She had only one turnover. In the fourth quarter, she made three of four field-goal attempts and eight of 10 free throws.

"She played at a high level," Gophers coach Dawn Plitzuweit said. "She did a great job of attacking, making good reads."

Battle's game continues to crescendo. She is averaging over 20 points in her last five games. In Friday's victory over North Dakota State, Battle scored five points in a 7-2 run to end the game in a 69-65 win.

On Monday, she did it again.

After her personal 9-2 run, the Gophers' lead never dipped lower than four. After Marta Savic scored for Wyoming to cut the deficit to 53-49, Nia Holloway hit two free throws and Sophie Hart scored in the paint.

BOXSCORE: Gophers 65, Wyoming 54

"She really attacked, got to the free-throw line," Plitzuweit said of Battle. "Prior to that, she was attacking, making things happen. But we weren't getting to the free-throw line, or getting the ball inside, as much. Late in the game, she was very intentional."

The Cowgirls played offensive and defensive styles the Gophers had not seen. On the defensive end in the low post, it was a challenge to cover Allyson Fertig, who had 20 points and 11 rebounds. On the offensive end, getting kick-outs for shots was difficult. The Gophers' two three-pointers, on seven attempts, were a season low.

Hart finished with 14 points on 6-for-11 shooting. Mallory Heyer had eight points and nine rebounds. Holloway had seven rebounds and six points. Freshman Grace Grocholski scored just three points but grabbed a team-high 11 rebounds. Maggie Czinano was a team-best plus-13. Her three-pointer midway through the third gave the Gophers their first points of the quarter. She also had three steals.

The Gophers held the Cowgirls to 39.6% shooting, outscoring them 25-14 in the final 10 minutes. Minnesota had a 12-4 edge on points off turnovers and an 8-0 advantage on second-chance points.

And now the Gophers have a tough day of travel ahead. It starts with a three-hour bus ride to Denver, a flight to Atlanta and then another three-hour bus ride to Troy, Ala.

And then a game.

"We'll be OK," Battle said. "I have faith in the coaching staff to get us ready."

The Star Tribune did not send the writer of this article to the game. This was written using a broadcast, interviews and other material.