Late in the first half at Nebraska on Tuesday, the Gophers women's basketball team trailed by six points when this happened:
Sara Scalia missed a three-pointer, with Kayla Mershon getting the rebound;
Gadiva Hubbard missed a three, with Kadi Sissoko getting the board;
Sissoko shot, but was blocked, getting the ball back;
Sissoko got the ball to Scalia, who missed another three.
Finally, Scalia got her own rebound, got the ball to Hubbard, who finally buried a three.
This was a big moment.
"I remember seeing this huge look of relief on her face," Gophers coach Lindsay Whalen said. "It's like her body language changed."
Said Hubbard: "I remember that play specifically. For some reason, the second time I got a three I felt more confident. I'm not sure why. It may have been Kadi screaming at me to shoot the ball."
By halftime the Gophers were within two points. After three quarters Nebraska led by one. In the fourth quarter Hubbard scored 12 of her team's 17 points as the Gophers, down 10 after a quarter, rallied for a 76-71 victory.
In this up-and-down season the Gophers (3-7, 2-6 Big Ten) have gotten steady performances from guard Jasmine Powell. Scalia has been consistent when on the court. She battled through stress fractures in her shins early, and has recently been playing despite having separated her right (shooting) shoulder in an overtime victory at Wisconsin Jan. 3.
But it seems the Gophers' fortunes lie heavy on Hubbard's shoulders.
She is one of the team's captains. She has played in more games with the Gophers than anyone else on the roster. When her three-point shot is on, the Gophers offense changes. It gives Scalia more opportunities on the perimeter; gives Powell more room to operate; gives Sissoko more room inside.
Hubbard's two best games have come in the two Gophers Big Ten victories. She had 24 points in Wisconsin, including the final nine points of overtime. Against Nebraska she scored 12 of her 18 points in the fourth quarter, including a three with 4:10 left that put the Gophers up three, and another with 49 seconds left that put the lead back at three. Her two free throws with 22 seconds left iced the game.
The fifth-year senior's play in Nebraska was a relief. In the three games since the win in Wisconsin Hubbard had gone 6-for-25 overall, making just one of 17 three-pointers. In the first quarter in Nebraska she missed a three. Her first three in that long second-quarter possession was way off.
But then, finally, she hit. Starting with that shot, Hubbard finished the game going 4-for-7 on three-pointers.
Monday the Gophers play at Penn State, which beat them 69-60 in Williams Arena Jan. 10, a game in which Hubbard went 1-for-10 on three-pointers.
Whalen leans on Hubbard for leadership. She is also one of the team's better perimeter defenders. But her shot is the most important thing. She started this season 21st on the all-time program scoring list, two points behind current assistant coach Kelly Curry. She is currently 16th (1,181). She is tied for fourth in Gophers history in threes attempted (569) and fifth in threes made (196).
"I don't want to put too much on one player," Whalen said. "But, definitely, when she gets going? When we're moving the ball and she's finding her spots? We're a different team."
Said Hubbard: "I feel if I have a good defensive game, I'm able to boost the confidence of my teammates. But if I am doing well on offense, that helps as well."
Scalia missed the first Penn State game because of that shoulder injury. She will be in uniform this time. And Hubbard may have regained her shooting touch.
"Like I said, it's not all up to her," Whalen said. "But she knows when it's winning time."