Gophers set for second-round WNIT home game vs. Pacific


7 p.m. Tuesday vs. Pacific at Williams Arena in WNIT second round

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Opening bell: After getting a first-round bye, the Gophers (16-15) get a Pacific team that advanced to the second round with a 63-43 win over Cal Poly. The game should feature the return of Gophers leading scorer Mara Braun and starting center Sophie Hart. The Gophers were 14-5 to start the season and were up seven at Illinois in the fourth quarter when Braun hurt her right foot. Minnesota lost that game and nine of the next 11, including a 1-1 split in the Big Ten tournament. Pacific (19-14) went 8-8 in the West Coast Conference, going 1-4 vs. the WCC's two NCAA tournament entries — 0-3 vs. Gonzaga and 1-1 vs. Portland.

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Watch her: Braun was averaging 17.8 points, shooting 37% on threes and was a 95% free-throw shooter before she was hurt. The Gophers scored almost 14 fewer points per game in her absence. Hart, who missed the final six games because of a hip injury, is averaging 10.2 points and shooting 58.4%. Point guard Amaya Battle had a strong Big Ten tournament, with 54 points, 10 assists and four turnovers in two games. The Gophers have five players averaging 9.2 or more points per game — Mallory Heyer (9.2 and 8.5 rebounds), Hart, freshman Grace Grocholski (11.1), Battle (11.9 and 5.5 assists) and Braun. The Tigers are a veteran team. The starting five includes two juniors, two seniors and a graduate student. All five average between 10.9 and 13.3 points per game.

Forecast: These two programs have never met. The Gophers defense will be tested by the Tigers' ability to spread the floor. But Minnesota should advance to the next round of the WNIT, where it would face the winner of Monday's game between Montana and North Dakota State.