Braun dominates in leading U women to rout of Chicago State

To give you an idea of how dominant Mara Braun was Sunday at Williams Arena, consider this:

With less than six minutes left in the third quarter of the Gophers women's basketball team's game against Chicago State — a game already pretty much decided — Braun had scored more points than the entire Cougars team.

Braun scored early and facilitated late as Minnesota rolled to a 100-42 victory over the overmatched Cougars.

It was a game that featured a lot of Gophers scoring and at least one very pleasant, perhaps slightly surprising, performance. Freshman Ayianna Johnson scored 19 points in her second college game.

But Braun really started it. She had 25 points, five rebounds, four assists and four steals for the Gophers, including a steal and a bucket to open the game. Braun made nine of 16 shots from the field overall and went 3-for-8 on three-pointers. Of her 25 points, 14 came in the first quarter and nine came in the second.

"I've been trying to come out fast, come out strong, in these past two games,'' said Braun, who has scored 25 points in both Gophers games this season.

This has been a focus for Braun for a while. As a freshman last season, she usually finished strong but could start slowly. In two games this season, she has scored 42 of her 50 points in the first half.

"Just setting the tone early,'' Braun said. "And then, from there, get everyone involved and building confidence is important for everyone else.''

The Gophers led by 15 points after one quarter and by 21 at the half. But Braun was the only Gophers player in the double figures with 23 points. The rest of the team had 20 points on 8-for-22 shooting.

That changed in the second half. Johnson and fellow freshman Grace Grocholski had 11 points in the final two quarters, and Janay Sanders contributed nine. Braun made one field goal in the second half but had four assists. The rest of the team had 55 points on 21-for-28 shooting.

"This weekend was important for us to understand we need to be intentional about continuing to grow and get better,'' Gophers coach Dawn Plitzuweit said. "And I thought we did a good job in the second half with that.''

Johnson made nine of 13 field-goal tries and was one of five Gophers in the double figures in points. Amaya Battle had 11 points, seven assists and just two turnovers. Sanders finished with 12 points, Grocholski with 11.

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Johnson, perhaps the strongest freshman big Plitzuweit has coached, was a five-sport athlete in high school but didn't really get serious about basketball until her freshman year. At 6-3, she is strong and athletic but raw.

But the speed and strength were apparent. Three of her nine field goals came from running the floor after a turnover. Each one came in the paint, where the Gophers held a 54-18 edge.

"She will continue learning while things are going on,'' Plitzuweit said. "She is someone who is just tapping the potential."

The Gophers had 21 turnovers in the opener but just 14 Sunday. Even in a one-sided victory over Long Island on Wednesday night, the Gophers came out slowly in the third quarter. Not the case Sunday, as Minnesota (2-0) had a 25-9 edge against Chicago State (0-2).

Now the Gophers get a rematch with North Dakota State on Wednesday night before a much-anticipated game vs. Connecticut on Sunday at Williams Arena. Don't expect anyone to look past the Bison.

"We got beat by NDSU last year at their place,'' said Plitzuweit, who coached against NDSU for years in the Summit League while at South Dakota. "From that standpoint, I would have to believe they have our attention. From a coaching standpoint, we know how good they are.''