Amaya Battle learned a long time ago that Mara Braun was at her best when the pressure was highest.
They played against each other for years, Braun at Wayzata, Battle at perennial power Hopkins.
You could see it.
"She was never afraid of us,'' Battle said. "She never backed down. Even when Paige [Bueckers] was there, she was never afraid. But I didn't know until I got here that she had it.''
It would be the clutch gene. Braun and Battle and Mallory Heyer and Katie Borowicz are all freshmen playing for the Gophers women's basketball team. The past two games coach Lindsay Whalen has started those four with sophomore center Rose Micheaux, making them one of the youngest starting fives in the country.
As expected, there have been ups and downs in Minnesota's 5-3 start, at times way too many turnovers. But Braun in particular and the Gophers in general have responded at the biggest times.
First, the Gophers: They have trailed by 10 or more points four times. Twice they won, coming back for a win against Lehigh when Braun hit a three-pointer at the buzzer. Again Saturday in the Big Ten opener against Penn State, the Gophers trailed by 10 early in the fourth quarter before rallying to tie the game and force overtime, then win in the second OT.
The team also trailed in Virginia by 10 in the fourth and came back to within one before losing by three. Against Wake Forest they came back from 10 down in the fourth to tie, but couldn't get over the hump.
And now, Braun. She is averaging 20.6 points per game, third-best in the Big Ten and second-best among freshmen in the country.
Of those points she averages, 9.1 have come after the third quarter. Braun is shooting 50% overall, 36.8% on threes and 95.8% on free throws in the fourth quarter and overtime. Saturday against Penn State she scored 26 points, hitting all 11 of her free throws, including three late in regulation to tie the game.
"I feel like, as a kid, I liked to be the player they went to in pressure situations,'' Braun said. "I like the ball in my hands. That comes from experience, from playing at a high level in AAU, and being able to play up as a kid. That all played into it.''
She's not alone. Against Penn State 76 of Minnesota's 98 points came from freshmen. Borowicz hit two free throws with a half-second left in regulation to force overtime. Heyer had a double-double. Battle helped the Gophers solve Penn State's press and scored a career-high 19 points.
But, just eight games in, Braun has become the team's clutch performer. She scored 14 fourth-quarter points and hit the game-winning three vs. Lehigh. She had 16 fourth-quarter points against Virginia, 13 vs. Wake Forest. Saturday she scored 16 points after the third quarter, and that includes an outstanding drive for a score and a three-point play that put the Gophers up five with 46 seconds left in the second overtime.
"It's a great thing, a great asset,'' Whalen said. "She works hard at it. So she's ready for those moments. It's great when you have players who can go and make plays, who are fearless, who are not afraid of the moment.''
But Braun wants more. She wants to start games more aggressively, start as strong as she finishes. She sees a lot of upside with her team, with a lot of improvement to be made.
But she's shown a lot already. Especially at crunch time.
"She was born with it,'' Battle said. "And she worked hard.''