Mara Braun stood on the Williams Arena court 90 minutes before tipoff Tuesday night, firing up shot after shot, swish after swish. She barely missed.

If you only watched her shooting form, you would have guessed that the Wisconsin Badgers were in for a long night defending the Gophers dynamic sophomore. If you happened to notice the large protective boot on Braun's right foot, reality provided a different perspective.

Braun might not play again this season after suffering an injury in late January that required surgery, leaving a void the size of Texas in the Gophers lineup.

The border battle provided another clear reminder of Braun's value and the mission ahead for first-year Gophers coach Dawn Plitzuweit in trying to resurrect a program that has the advantage of residing in a state blessed with blue-chip prep talent but struggles to capitalize on that advantage.

The Braun-less Gophers were overpowered by a Wisconsin team that came to town with a .500 record (losing record in Big Ten games) and left with a 67-56 victory after leading from start to finish.

The Gophers are now 1-5 without their star guard, and their offense looks unsteady and lacking firepower without her.

The Gophers finished with nearly as many turnovers (17) as made baskets (20). Defensively, they gave up 32 points in the paint and 16 offensive rebounds.

Hard to win like that.

Freshman sharpshooter Grace Grocholski entered the game on a heater, having earned her third Big Ten Freshman of the Week honors, but the Badgers stifled her three-point shooting.

The Badgers blanketed Grocholski when she didn't have the ball and smothered her whenever she touched it. Grocholski fouled out late in the game with only eight points on four shot attempts.

The drop-off in playmaking in Braun's absence is impossible to ignore. Plitzuweit needs to elevate the overall talent on the roster so the season doesn't crumble if Braun is unavailable.

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The Gophers have the youngest team in the Big Ten, so growing pains in a coach's first season are normal, if not predictable. Losing Braun on top of that creates extra complications.

Braun is special, and Grocholski's three-point shooting is a real asset, and the hope is that they will reunite next season as a tandem that makes the Gophers difficult to defend.

Sorry, that's become a standard caveat when forecasting in college sports — if so-and-so returns. Just a habit now, even when there's no reason to think or suggest otherwise.

Head coaches in every sport understand that retention of players currently on their roster is every bit as important as recruiting high school prospects.

The transfer portal has made college basketball, in particular, a year-to-year venture. Continuity is becoming less and less common.

Gophers men's coach Ben Johnson essentially has had different rosters for each of his three seasons because of transfers. Establishing a culture and a foundation with a fresh batch of players every season becomes a difficult exercise.

Johnson has constructed a team this season that has a wonderful esprit de corps. The Gophers are a likable bunch because they are unselfish, they play the right way and the development of young players has made an NCAA Tournament appearance a possibility.

A winning nucleus has sprouted. Every player in the main rotation is eligible to return. If that happens, plus the addition of Cherry High standout point guard Isaac Asuma, the 2024-25 season could be loads of fun.

Plitzuweit has her own building blocks in Braun and Grocholski. Braun and fellow sophomores Mallory Heyer and Amaya Battle bucked the transferring trend after Lindsay Whalen's departure as head coach, giving Plitzuweit a solid starting point.

Braun's injury was terribly unfortunate — for her and the team. The Gophers simply aren't equipped right now to sustain the loss of a player so impactful.

Braun could only shoot in early warmups — without jumping — and the Gophers surely miss her shooting once the game starts. Put her and Grocholski together next season and that will be quite a duo.