January 30, 2024
How Mara Braun’s injury impacts Minnesota
Plitzuweit: 'It was a really tough blow'
Minnesota head coach Dawn Plitzuweit announced on Monday that sophomore guard Mara Braun will miss the remainder of the season after suffering a foot injury during Sunday’s loss to Illinois.
A crushing blow to one of the biggest surprise teams in college basketball this season, Braun’s been a key cog to the team’s success, and her loss will surely have major ramifications for what the rest of the Gophers’ season looks like.
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“Mara has experienced an incredible sophomore season to this point and when we heard the news that the injury she sustained on Sunday would require surgery, it was a really tough blow,” Plitzuweit said in a release. “The development of Mara’s game on both ends of the court this season has been such a joy to watch, and while we know that this setback is incredibly frustrating, we also know that she will continue to be a great teammate and leader in our program. Mara is an elite player and competitor, and we know that she will attack her rehab with enthusiasm and tenacity, and we cannot wait to get her back on the court as soon as her injury fully heals. This is also an opportunity for other players to step up and make things happen on both ends of the court for us.”
Here are three aspects of Minnesota’s game that will likely be impacted by Braun’s absence:
Overall offensive game
Braun had six games this season scoring 12 or fewer points. Although Minnesota was 4-2 in those contests, the offense also averaged 12 fewer points than the team’s season average. In other words, as Braun goes, so go the Gophers.
Look at the team’s stats and her numbers easily stand out. She leads Minnesota in points (17.8), assists (3.2), steals (1.7), free throw percentage (95%) and win shares (3.1).
Taking her out of the lineup will almost certainly hamper the offense. Even in games where she didn’t shoot well, opposing defenses still had to worry about her on the floor. Now they’ll be able to hone in on players like freshman Grace Grocholski and sophomores Mallory Heyer and Amaya Battle.
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More specifically on offense, Braun’s absence will severely hurt Minnesota’s game from deep. The Gophers average just over eight made 3-point field goals per game; Braun usually accounts for about three of them. For a team that gets nearly a third of its scoring from beyond the arc (80th percentile in the nation), losing one of their best 3-point shooters will only hurt.
Heyer and Grocholski are the only two other Gophers shooting over 35% from 3-point range. Having three threats from deep is part of what’s made Minnesota hard to guard this year. Losing one from that trio diminishes that advantage.
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Grocholski, Heyer and Battle grow for the future
Besides Braun, Grocholski, Heyer and Battle are the three other Gophers averaging double figures in scoring this season, and now they’ll almost assuredly take on bigger roles.
Obviously Minnesota is at its best when Braun is healthy, but it’s possible to see how her absence the rest of the way could benefit the freshman and two sophomores looking beyond this season.
Before losing to Wisconsin and Illinois this past week, the Gophers looked to have a legitimate shot of making the NCAA Tournament. That could still be possible, but the challenge just got much more difficult. The roster is still retooling, and giving some of the other young players more opportunities to evolve and grow could bode well for Minnesota when Braun returns healthy again next season.
Written by Eric Rynston-Lobel
Eric Rynston-Lobel has been a contributor to The Next since August 2022. He covered Northwestern women's basketball extensively in his four years as a student there for WNUR and now works as a sports reporter for the Concord Monitor in New Hampshire.