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Holloway’s defensive effort helps power Gophers to victory

Rutgers' Destiny Adams was a handful for the Gophers the entire night. Whatever she wanted to do, it was done almost as soon as she wished it.

The Scarlet Knights' 6-3 forward was the equivalent of a bruising running back in Wednesday's first-round Big Ten women's basketball tournament matchup at Target Center. She pounded her way into the paint on drive after drive, bullying her way through the Minnesota defense at her will. When her shot didn't fall, she grabbed the ball off the glass and put it right back up, again and again. Through three quarters, she was a rebound short of a 20-20 game.

Enter Nia Holloway.

The redshirt first-year missed all of last season because of a knee injury and has since come off the bench in each of Minnesota's 30 games this season. Going into the tournament, she averaged only 12.7 minutes per game. But on Wednesday, she blew any performance she'd had in her young Gophers career out of the water.

While teammate Amaya Battle lit up the scoreboard for 32 points in what was an incredible night for the sophomore guard, Holloway did the dirty work in the trenches. She scrapped, clawed and fought in the post, boxing out Adams and slowing her down enough in the fourth for the Gophers to pull away. The All-Big Ten second-teamer was held to 2-for-6 shooting in the final quarter, largely because of the efforts of Holloway, as Minnesota beat Rutgers 77-69.

"Just being able to play on this stage this year was so special," Holloway said after the game. "I came in with an open mind, just wanting to play my heart out, and I think I did that."

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Holloway played a career-high 29 minutes, fourth most on the team. She logged seven points, along with nine rebounds, three steals and a block. Most importantly, five of Holloway's boards were offensive, helping balance an area in which Adams gashed the Gophers the entire game.

The Eden Prairie native also posted a 100.1 defensive rating — the best on the team by far and second only to Adams in the game.

Holloway's overall defensive performance was a major factor in the team's win, especially in limiting Adams at the end of the game. However, she was quick to give credit to her teammates and how they helped her have the standout night.

"I think [it was] just my toughness and wanting to get stops and knowing that my team was behind me," Holloway said. "Knowing that if I could keep her where I had to keep her, then they would be right there to help me."

For someone playing only her 30th career college game, Holloway certainly didn't play like a rookie against Rutgers. While it might have only been a No. 11 seed vs. a No. 14 seed in a game between two teams with seasons to forget, that type of game, Holloway said she believes, can be instrumental in building her confidence.

"I like to be in spaces where I can help my team," she said. "Obviously, we've been in a lot of adversity this year, and I think just being there and my ability to step up was based on my confidence that I know my coaches had in me and my teammates had in me, so I just felt like I could do that."