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    Gophers coach Dawn Plitzuweit sees opportunity for growth, even with Mara Braun injured

    On Monday, Dawn Plitzuweit was more concerned with where everyone’s head was at than she was worried about what the Gophers women’s basketball team was going to do on the floor.

    There was a theme.

    “It’s important that we are living what we preach,” said Plitzuweit, in her first year as the Gophers coach. “We say it all the time. Embrace the adversity.”

    There is adversity. In the first minute of the fourth quarter of Minnesota’s loss at Illinois on Sunday, the Gophers leading scorer and most important communicator on defense was hurt. Mara Braun hit a three, then landed on the foot of Illinois defender Adalia McKenzie – Braun’s former AAU teammate – who had closed out hard. Perhaps too hard.

    Braun hurt her right foot, and it will require surgery. There is a very good chance the rest of the team will have to, as one of Plitzuweit’s favorite phrases goes, find a way without Braun.

    That will include tons of X’s and O’s. It will include a re-examination of the team’s schemes and rotations. Plitzuweit and her staff will have to figure out who is elevated into the starting lineup – perhaps grad transfer guard Janay Sanders – and who on the team will be asked for more.

    But, for a day Monday, it was more about attitude.

    “We did that yesterday,” Plitzuweit said Tuesday. “We shared with them stories of other athletes who have gone through challenging times. Teams that have done that.”

    This is something Plitzuweit has always done, and continued when she came here from Western Wisconsin. In the fall, as training camp was getting under way, she had her team read the book “The Precious Present” by Spencer Johnson. Monday she shared a chapter from “The Obstacle is the Way: The Timeless Art of Turning Trials into Triumph,” by Ryan Holiday.

    “We have to learn to embrace this and grow,” Plitzuweit said. “Honestly, we will. We’ll get better from this. Mara will learn the game a different way because of this.”

    Plitzuweit is convinced that, whenever it happens, Braun will rejoin a team better than the one that lost its second consecutive road game at Illinois.

    But the present is a challenge. The Gophers (14-6) are 4-5 in the Big Ten after two straight losses. They host Penn State – one of the hottest teams in the conference – on Wednesday, a team that scored 112 points on Maryland in a win Sunday.

    And it will be more than Braun’s 17.8 points per game the Gophers will have to replace. Braun’s ability to score creates space for others; her gravity draws extra defenders. Her loss will mean more of a challenge for everyone on the offense end.

    When opponents had the ball, Braun set the defense, communicated when transition defense required switches.

    “When she hasn’t been in the game, [defense] has been a challenge for us, honestly,” Plitzuweit said. “We have to fill that void with someone who is physically doing that, but also vocally setting us up.”

    As of Tuesday, Plitzuweit was noncommittal on her plans about who would replace Braun in the starting lineup. But she did identify three players whose roles will likely grow.

    Sanders, who has been the first guard off the bench, could move into the starting lineup. This season Sanders has appeared in all 20 games, averaging 5.3 points and 1.5 assists.

    “Sanders will have an increased role for us, in a lot of different ways,” Plitzuweit said. “She needs to make plays for us.”

    Others? Plitzuweit mentioned junior wing Maggie Czinano, whose minutes will grow. And Nia Holloway, who will play more and, perhaps, a bit differently. She has been primarily a backup in the post, but the Gophers may need her to play more on the perimeter, especially on defense.

    Even with their two straight losses, ESPN’s Charlie Crème had the Gophers as one of the final four teams to make the NCAA tournament. To stay there will be a challenge.

    And it started with a quick book study Monday. “Embracing adversity is a life skill, not just a basketball skill,” Plitzuweit said. “If you spend time trying to control what you can’t control, it won’t help you.”

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