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Mara Braun, Sophie Hart set to return for Gophers in WNIT

<div>Mara Braun had 21 points in her Minnesota debut as the Gophers' women's basketball team opened the 2022-23 season with a 75-45 win over Western Illinois Monday night at Williams Arena.</div> <strong>(University of Minnesota Athletics)</strong>
Mara Braun had 21 points in her Minnesota debut as the Gophers' women's basketball team opened the 2022-23 season with a 75-45 win over Western Illinois Monday night at Williams Arena.
(University of Minnesota Athletics)

MINNEAPOLIS (FOX 9) - The University of Minnesota women’s basketball season isn’t over, and the Gophers are also getting two starters back for the WNIT.

Nearly two weeks after losing to Michigan in the Big Ten Tournament, Minnesota (16-15) learned it will host Pacific in the WNIT on Tuesday, March 26 at Williams Arena. To put icing on that cake, Mara Braun and Sophie Hart will both likely return for the Gophers.

Hart has been out with a hip issue. Braun, the team’s leading scorer, had surgery to repair a foot injury suffered at Illinois on Jan. 28. Her season was thought to be over. They’re both back, and Dawn Plitzuweit said Friday they’ll both be on minutes restrictions.

But after two weeks of waiting, the Gophers will take the court again this season.

"It’s been different, we’ve been kind of practicing for the last two weeks without knowing who you’re going to play, when you’re going to play. So this is an exciting day for us," Plitzuweit said.

Without Braun and Hart, the Gophers lost 10 of their last 12 games to end the regular season.

So what did Braun learn being forced to sit and watch from the bench?

"The biggest thing I learned is just how much I love the game and just love to play it. Just my teammates and how I can help them once I get back on the floor, how I can help to maximize their abilities," Braun said. "I knew eventually I was going to come out on the other side of it soon enough, so I just stuck with the rehab. I’m planning on being out there, which is exciting."

She’s also giving back to her team, via name, image and likeness. Braun has a partnership with JBL, and in a recent team meeting, she surprised her teammates and coaches with new headphones and earbuds.

"I didn’t know they were sending me that, so that was really exciting to be able to surprise the whole team. Everybody got a little bit of the love, and I think that’s really what NIL is all about, just giving back to people and being able to use your platform to be giving," Braun said.