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U women open WNIT play with 77-62 victory vs. Pacific

On Tuesday night at Williams Arena, the gang — with a couple minutes limitations — was back together. And the Gophers women's basketball team looked a lot like it did at the start of the season in a 77-62 victory over Pacific in a second-round WNIT game.

Both Mara Braun (foot) and Sophie Hart (hip) missed most of the stretch run of the regular season and the Big Ten tournament with injuries. On Tuesday, they played sparingly.

But their impact was immediate.

Hart made six of nine shots and scored 14 points in 19 minutes played. Braun? She struggled with her shot, going 4-for-13, but she had 12 points in 17 minutes. In Braun's case, there was some rust early; she was 1-for-6 on three-pointers to start the game before nailing one late in the third quarter.

And there is work to be done. Pacific shot 46.2% overall and outscored the Gophers 40-37 in the second half.

Still, Minnesota (17-15) will host North Dakota State in the WNIT's Super 16 round at 7 p.m. Friday at Williams Arena.

The Gophers shot a modest 45.5% but were around 50% through three quarters. Braun and Hart's gravity on the offensive end created space for other players. In all, eight Gophers scored. Mallory Heyer had 11 points and six rebounds. Amaya Battle scored 10 points with six rebounds and six assists. Maggie Czinano had nine, Nia Holloway eight points and five rebounds.

To be fair, Pacific (19-15), which was led by Cecilia Holmberg's 14 points, is not a Big Ten-level opponent. And the fact the Tigers shot so well gives the Gophers something to work on before the NDSU game.

But, with a near-full complement of players — backup center Ayianna Johnson missed the game with a concussion — the Gophers looked a lot more like the team that started the season 14-5 overall and 4-4 in conference play than the one that was 2-11 in its last 13 games.

The Gophers took care of this one early. With Hart and Braun scoring seven points, the Gophers opened the game 10-0. Up by 10 after a quarter, Minnesota started the second quarter 16-8 to go up 22 points on Battle's second-chance jumper with 3:30 left in the first half. With eight players having scored, the Gophers led by 18 at the half.

That lead grew to 22 after three quarters despite the fact the Gophers made just five of 11 free throws in the quarter.