Sara Scalia usually goes to the Gophers women's basketball practice court at night, after dinner. Alone on the court, she'll grab a ball and start shooting. Shots in the paint, then some from mid-court and then, from behind the three-point line.
Sometimes from way behind. Three, four nights of the week, during the season. Apart from classes, travel, practices. Scalia is alone in the gym shooting shot after shot.
"I go for makes,'' Scalia said. "I want to get 500 makes.''
In a Gophers season that has more downs than ups, Scalia has been the team's model of consistency. Heading into Thursday's game at Purdue (6 p.m., BTN Plus) the junior guard from Stillwater has scored in double figures in 16 of 20 games. She leads the team in scoring (16.4) and made three-pointers, where she is shooting at a 42% clip. Over the past 10 games, she has averaged 19.4 points, and made 41 of 89 threes.
She has worked to broaden her game, improving her ability to drive for a layup or mid-range shot. But her bread and butter, her most valuable asset, is her ability to hit a three. Even from well behind the NCAA's 20-foot, 9-inch arc.
In the process she is emerging as a leader. She was willing to express her disappointment at how disconnected the team was in a one-sided loss to Iowa, a game in which she was the only Gophers player in double figures. The day after that loss, following a film session, the players held a meeting without the coaches.
"I feel we didn't give it our all,'' she said. "That's the biggest thing for me. Whether we win or lose, to make sure myself and the people I'm playing with give max effort.''
At Michigan State on Sunday, Scalia scored 31 points but missed a driving layup with 13 seconds left that would have tied the score — "I'll probably be thinking about it for a while," she said afterward — as the Gophers lost by three. A loss, yes, but also some gains.
Scalia made seven of 13 threes, some from 4 or 5 feet behind the line. She said her decisions on whether to shoot depend on feel more than where she is on the court. Still, looking back at the game on film, even she was surprised at some of the shots she took, and made.
Even more impressive is that Scalia is now clearly atop every opponent's scouting list. Not leaving her open for a shot has meant Scalia is seeing more hand-checking, more physical play. In some part, her decision — and ability — to step back for even deeper shots is a reaction to this.
So what is her range?
"Honestly I really don't know,'' Scalia said. "If I'm in the game, catch it and I'm feeling [good], I just feel if I've worked on it from where I'm at, I'll shoot it.''
Said Gophers coach Lindsay Whalen: "Just inside half court. Some of those at Michigan State? [Scalia] was on in the second half, it was right in front of me, I knew it was going to go in. And it was 4 feet behind the line. NBA-plus. I wish I had that range when I played.''
Scalia is 11th in the Big Ten in scoring, eighth in three-point shooting percentage and second in threes made per game (3.2). She is on pace for about 95 made threes, which would be the third-most in program history behind Rachel Banham (119 in 2015-16) and Carlie Wagner (101 in 2017-18). At her current pace she will become the 22nd player in program history to score 1,000 points for the Gophers (9-11).
"By the time she leaves here she should hold a lot of records,'' Whalen said. "I think we're kinda just seeing the start honestly. Freshman year is always tough. Second year was COVID. She had several injuries, and she'd never been through them before. Now, half-way through the season you're seeing that spark. She's only going to keep getting better.''