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Gophers to face Bueckers, UConn next year at Williams Arena

Minneapolis Star Tribune 11/15/2022 Kent Youngblood, Star Tribune

Until Sunday's buzzer-beating, game-winning shot against Lehigh, what happened on the court at Hopkins High School in March of 2020 might have been one of Mara Braun's best memories.

It was that night, in a sectional championship game between Wayzata and Hopkins, that Braun went toe-to-toe with Hopkins star Paige Bueckers, who was headed to Connecticut.

Hopkins won, but Braun held her own. Bueckers scored 33, Braun 27.

Next year, the rematch.

The Gophers women's basketball team announced Tuesday that Connecticut would come to Williams Arena for a game Nov. 19 2023.

"I'm super excited,'' Braun said. "It's always exciting to play a player like that. Especially her coming back from injuries, in her home state.''

Bueckers was the Associated Press' national player of the years as a freshman. She has helped lead the Huskies to two Final Fours, including a berth in the title game at Target Center in April. This season she is out while rehabbing from a knee injury.

The game is happening for much the same reason Sunday's game with Lehigh was scheduled. Gophers coach Lindsay Whalen wanted to give the six Minnesotans on the Lehigh roster a chance to play at home. And Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma wants to do the same thing for Bueckers.

"Once she went there, this was something we always knew would happen,'' Whalen said. "

It will be the fourth time the two teams have met, with Connecticut winning the first three. Among those was a national semifinal game in 2004 that pitted a Connecticut team featuring Diana Taurasi against a Gophers team led by Whalen. The two teams also met in the Bahamas last season in the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament.

"She's a really good player,'' Braun said of Bueckers. "It seems everyone in the world knows about her. It will be cool to get her back here. People are already texting me about it. It's, 'Hey,' I'll be there in the front row. People are excited about it already. It will be a good experience for us.''

It will be another opportunity to showcase women's basketball in Minnesota. The Gophers recruiting class of Braun, Amaya Battle (Hopkins), Mallory Heyer (Chaska) and Nia Holloway (Eden Prairie) was highly ranked.

Holloway is rehabbing a knee injury and won't play this season. But, after two non-conference games, Braun is leading the Big Ten in scoring (27.5) and Battle is in the top ten in assists (5.5) and blocks (2.0).

Battle played with Bueckers at Hopkins. She's excited about the chance to play against her.

"It will be different, being on opposite sides,'' Battle said. "But it will be good. I know a lot of Minnesota fans who were fans of her in high school will come out and see it.''

©2022 StarTribune. Visit startribune.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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