Grocholski helps well-traveled Gophers beat Troy, advance to WNIT title game

For much of the second half, as a 14-point lead dwindled to one, the Gophers women's basketball team had struggled to score, to keep Troy off the offensive boards.

But in the final seconds, Minnesota did what it had to do to keep playing.

Amaya Battle was able to get the ball to Grace Grocholski, who hit a three-pointer with 40 seconds left to put the Gophers up four.

Moments later, Grocholski hit one of two free-throw tries to make it a five-point lead.

Not long after that, the Gophers — who have been on the road for days filled with bus rides and plane flights — had won their WNIT semifinal game 74-69.

That put them in Saturday's championship against Saint Louis, which beat host Vermont 57-54 on Wednesday.

"They kept saying to have confidence, to hunt the next shot," said Grocholski, a freshman, of her teammates. "This is super special. We're all excited. We're glad we have one more game left."

This was not the tournament the Gophers were aiming for when the season began, before key injuries started taking their toll. But now Minnesota (20-15) has a chance to be one of just a handful of college teams that can end the season with a victory.

"We told our players today, before shootaround, they deserved to play well," coach Dawn Plitzuweit said. "It was a tough environment. Tough travel. They had the opportunity to complain about that. And I didn't hear one person complain."

Grocholski had four points in Minnesota's 6-2 finish to the game. Battle's two free throws with 10 seconds left iced the victory, the Gophers' fourth straight and fifth in the last six games.

Battle had 18 points, seven rebounds and four assists. Mallory Heyer (15 points) came a rebound away from her seventh double-double. Sophie Hart (12-11) had her first such game in a Gophers uniform.

Grocholski saved her best for last, scoring four of her 11 points in the game's final minute.

And the Gophers needed all of it. The Trojans (22-12) are a senior-laden team that led the nation in rebounding. Twenty of their 50 rebounds Wednesday were on the offensive end, which resulted in 20 points.

Seniors Ja'Mia Hollings (25 points, 12 rebounds), Tai'Sheka Porchia (21 points and 10 rebounds) and Makayia Hallmon (19 points) scored 65 of Troy's 69 points, combining to go 28-for-63 from the field. The rest of the Troy roster scored four points on 1-for-19 shooting.

It had been a difficult few days for the Gophers. They traveled to Laramie to play Wyoming in a quarterfinal game Monday night. Wyoming's arena has the highest altitude in Division I at 7,220 feet. Before playing again Wednesday, they had to take a three-hour bus ride to Denver, fly to Atlanta, then take another three-hour bus ride to Troy, Ala.

Tough turnaround.

So maybe the Gophers ran out of gas a little bit. Minnesota had just one turnover when Hart scored on a putback to put Minnesota up 56-42 with 6:11 left in the third quarter.

BOXSCORE: Gophers 74, Troy (Ala.) 69

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From there until Hollings hit one of two free-throw attempts with 55 seconds left, the Gophers turned the ball over 13 times and were outscored 25-12.

The good news is that the Gophers continued to get stops even when they couldn't score.

Then, finally, out of a timeout after Hollings' free throw, the Gophers finished strong.

In the huddle, Plitzuweit called a plan anticipating the Trojans would come out in a zone. That's not what they got. But, adjusting on the fly, Battle got the ball to the right player. Now they get to play for a championship.

"Our kids toughed it out," Plitzuweit said.

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