Braun, Hart return from injury to lead Gophers past Pacific 77-62 in WNIT

Mara Braun and Sophie Hart were back on the Williams Arena floor Tuesday night like they never left.

Braun returned for the first time in nearly two months due to a foot injury, and Hart dealt with a hip injury near the end of the season. The two combined for 26 points as the Gophers advanced to the Super 16 of the WNIT with a 77-62 win over Pacific in front of a sparse crowd at The Barn, thanks to a 48-hour snow storm in the Twin Cities.

"Great to have Mara back after almost eight weeks, and Sophie back after a little over five weeks. When (Mara) was out there, we were a different team and same with Sophie. They both responded at a really high level," Gophers' coach Dawn Plitzuweit told KFAN Plus after the win.

Minnesota (17-15) will face North Dakota State in the next round. The Gophers beat the Bison 75-53 in the third game of the season.

Braun talked late last week about watching from the bench the last two months as Minnesota lost 10 of 12 games without her. She was on a minutes restriction Tuesday, and it was no surprise that her first made shot was a 3-pointer. She finished with 12 points, shooting 2-of-8 from the perimeter in 20 minutes. Hart, also on a minutes restriction after missing six games, led the Gophers with 14 points in 19 minutes.

"It’s a lot better to be able to play than have to sit and watch. It wasn’t a whole lot of time, but it was enough to get our feet in the sand a little bit. I tried to smile a little more. It’s different to be on the court, this team is just so much fun to play with," Braun said after the win.

"I kind of compared her to a little kid on Christmas impatiently waiting her turn to open a present. She was like ‘Let me back in, let me back in.’ Just coming back here with the fans, it’s just such a great community to be around," Hart said of Braun after the win.

Mallory Heyer added 11 points and six rebounds as nine players scored for Minnesota, four in double figures. Amaya Battle added 10 points, six rebounds and six assists.

The Gophers didn’t look rusty after having not played since a March 7 loss to Michigan in the Big Ten Tournament. Minnesota led 10-0 early and 18-8 before taking a 40-18 lead at the half in their first game in 19 days.

They scored 25 points off 22 Pacific turnovers, out-scored the Tigers 26-16 in bench points and 42-24 in the paint.

The Gophers will host the Bison at 7 p.m. Friday at Williams Arena.