Saturday at Williams Arena, over the course of a 50-minute, double-overtime marathon that wasn't over until the final shot failed to fall, the Gophers women's basketball team showed one thing:
The kids are all right.
"It shows we never give up," said Mallory Heyer, one of four freshmen who started for the Gophers against Penn State in the Big Ten Conference opener for both teams. She scored 18 points with 11 rebounds.
"We compete every day," said Heyer. "We compete every game. We'll keep fighting till the end. That showed tonight."
In a pressure cooker of a Big Ten opener for both teams, the Gophers did what they had to do to come away with a 98-96 victory.
For at least one night, the Gophers didn't look like a team that started four freshmen and a sophomore. They looked poised, ready.
Minnesota shook off early difficulties with Penn State's pressure defense, rallied from 10 down with 9-plus minutes left in regulation and down five with 1:18 left to force overtime.
"It's growth," said Mara Braun. She scored 26 points. She hit three free throws to tie the game with 13 seconds left in regulation. But it took two more from Katie Borowicz with a half-second left to force the first overtime. Braun hit two free throws with 3 seconds left in the first OT, but it wasn't enough when Shay Ciezki hit a fallaway deuce to force the second OT.
But it didn't matter. Braun and Heyer combined to score 15 of Minnesota's 22 points in the two overtimes.
Braun's three-point play late in the second OT proved to be the difference.
"Coach Shimmy said it at the end," Braun said of Gophers assistant coach Shimmy Gray-Miller. "It's growth. We're a young team. We had a ton of young players out there. Every kind of situation happened. And we were able to fight through. This is what we needed after losing to Wake Forest.'
That loss came on Wednesday.
This time the Gophers rose to every challenge. Borowicz had 13 points before fouling out. Amaya Battle, in her second start, scored 19 points with five assists and three steals.
Together, that was enough to offset the game-high 34 points from Penn State star Makenna Marisa.
"It's toughness," Gophers coach Lindsay Whalen said. "We battled through adversity. We were just a group that would not say no. They battled, they fought. And I'm proud of the entire team. I'm certainly proud of this win."
The Gophers hit all 13 of their fourth-quarter free throws to force overtime.
They had a lead in the first extra session, but couldn't hang on. After Ciezki hit that shot to force the second OT, Penn State started that extra session taking a three-point lead.
But the Gophers scored nine of the next 11 points. Heyer scored. Then Battle. After Penn State scored to tie the game, Battle drove baseline for a score, then Braun had her three-point play.
It was enough, finally.
"Coach has prepared us for moments like this," Battle said. "We kept our composure. We stayed confident until the very end."
In doing so, they played beyond their years. Freshmen scored 76 of the Gophers' 98 points and combined to make 19 of 22 free throws.
"These players, they have something,'' Whalen said. "Toughness. Togetherness. That's all I can say. Just great kids.''