Looking for an indication the Gophers women's basketball team has taken a step forward? Consider:
A year ago Minnesota went up to Fargo, N.D., for a nonconference game against the North Dakota State Bison.
Wednesday at Williams Arena, the rematch. And it was never really close. The Gophers opened the game 12-3, opened the second quarter 9-2 and scored 13 straight at one point in the quarter. Up 22 at halftime, Minnesota cruised to a 75-53 victory.
The Gophers (3-0) got a career-high 20 points and nine assists from point guard Amaya Battle. Mallory Heyer had 12 points and 12 rebounds for her sixth career double-double. Mara Braun — who took a bump on the head in the third quarter — scored 13. She left the game briefly, but returned.
The Gophers — who play host to eighth-ranked Connecticut Sunday — soundly beat a team with legitimate Summit League title aspirations.
"After last year's loss, we felt we had something to prove,'' said Heyer, who was particularly good on the defensive end, where she got 12 of the Gophers' 32 defensive rebounds.
Said Battle: "It shows how competitive we are. No matter what happened a year ago, yesterday, we're always willing to come back and work."
It wasn't a perfect game. The two teams were even, scoring-wise, in the second half. North Dakota State (1-2) out-rebounded the Gophers and had a 10-3 edge on second-chance points.
But just about every other stat tilted in Minnesota's favor — an 18-8 edge on points off turnovers, a 34-18 edge in the paint. Eight Gophers players scored in double figures, seven with six or more points. Nia Holloway was an efficient 3-for-3 with seven points, five rebounds and three steals — one, on the sideline, showed startling quickness — in just under 13 minutes of playing time. Janay Sanders had eight, giving Gophers point guards a total of 28 points.
Really, it never seemed like the Gophers ever lost the momentum.
And, as Minnesota coach Dawn Plitzuweit said, her team did a good job of limiting North Dakota State in areas it usually shines. For example, they came into the game forcing 21 turnovers a game, and Minnesota had 14.
"North Dakota State is a very good team," Plitzuweit said. "You relax for a moment, miss an assignment, they make you pay. We competed at a very high level."
With six players scoring, the Gophers led 18-12 after a quarter.
But the Gophers really took over the game in the second 10 minutes. Holloway had six, Battle and Heyer five each in the second, during which the Gophers made eight of 13 shots, two of four threes and five of six free throws. On the other end the Gophers held NDSU to 3-for-12 shooting, forcing six turnovers.
The second half was far less scintillating. The Gophers shot a little worse, the Bison a little better. Still the Gophers maintained their lead.
If North Dakota State was a step up from the Gophers' first two opponents — Long Island University and Chicago State — Sunday will be a quantum leap with the Huskies, led by former Hopkins star Paige Bueckers, coming to town.
"They are elite in every way, shape and form," Plitzuweit said. How will the Gophers combat that? She'll get back to you. Plitzuweit and her staff had been so focused on the Bison, they haven't jumped into UConn prep yet. It should be a busy three days.