The Gophers women’s basketball team was at Purdue on Sunday, and the Boilermakers had just rattled off a 10-2 run — erasing an eight-point Minnesota lead to tie the score at 43 with just under four minutes left in the third quarter.
But over the next 8:02, the Gophers hit Purdue with a 23-3 run, the key stretch for a Minnesota team that broke a five-game losing streak with a 72-59 victory.
It’s hard to overestimate how important that run, and that victory, was. It came three days after suspended leading scorer Destiny Pitts announced her intention to leave the school, a declaration that came only hours before the Gophers lost a big lead in a one-point home loss to Iowa.
“The team put its foot down and said, ‘We’re not letting them back in this,’ ” coach Lindsay Whalen said of the win at Purdue. “‘We’re going to keep our foot on the gas.’ And we ended up getting a big win.”
Three players scored 21 of the 23 points in that run. Freshman guards Jasmine Powell and Sara Scalia had seven and six points, respectively. For Scalia, who has led or tied for the team lead in scoring in three consecutive games, it helped earn her Big Ten Conference freshman of the week honors for the second time.
But leading the way was Gadiva Hubbard, who had eight, including a three-pointer to start the fourth quarter and another three near the end of the run.
Hubbard is a redshirt junior from Virginia Beach, Va. She missed last season after surgery on her right foot. But as one of just a handful of four-year players on the Gophers, she has been pushed into more of a leadership role with the departure of Pitts.
“My role has definitely evolved since everything has happened,” she said. “Coach Whalen asked me to step up, be more vocal, lead the freshmen a little more. And that’s what I think I’ve been doing. Not only being more vocal, but trying to show it more on the court as well.”
It has been an up and down return for Hubbard. It took her some time to shake off the rust. Starting with the Gophers’ victory over Arizona State in mid-November, she averaged 15.5 points over seven games — all Gophers wins. Then she hit a short scoring slump as the Big Ten games began.
But over the past three games, all without Pitts on the court, Hubbard has averaged 15.7 points and matched a career-high with five steals vs. Iowa.
The Gophers host Wisconsin on Wednesday night at Williams Arena. For Minnesota (12-6, 2-5 Big Ten) to get back in the thick of the conference race they’ll need Hubbard at her best.
“Diva’s been great,” Whalen said. “She’s been someone taking more of a vocal leadership role. She’s someone we’ve been able to rely on.”
Both of the Gophers’ Big Ten victories have come on the road, at Penn State Dec. 28 and again Sunday. Minnesota is 7-4 at home but hasn’t won at Williams Arena since Dec. 21 against Lehigh. Against the Badgers’ big lineup, the Gophers will need Taiye Bello’s rebounding and scoring, the strong play starting point guard Jasmine Brunson has shown of late, plus Powell and Scalia.
“We’re going to need our freshmen to step up and do what we knew they’re capable of,” Hubbard said. “I think they’re capable of that. For myself? I don’t think I was being aggressive in some previous games. Now I’m just trying to get our team going.”