The Minnesota Golden Gophers won three of five games with Gadiva Hubbard sidelined by an ankle injury; that’s not to say they didn’t miss the fifth-year senior wing.
Hubbard averaged 18 points and 6.5 rebounds in victories at Nebraska and Penn State — the Gophers’ first consecutive victories of the season — before injuring her ankle against the Nittany Lions.
With Sara Scalia starting to recover from shin and shoulder injuries and Hubbard finding her stroke, the Gophers were finally becoming the team coach Lindsay Whalen envisioned.
“It was right when we kind of got our thing going,” Whalen said.
Hubbard scored 12 of her points in the fourth quarter as the Gophers rallied to beat the Cornhuskers on Jan. 19. The win snapped a three-game losing streak and remains the Gophers’ lone victory over a team with a winning record. Whalen called it the team’s “signature win.”
That would change in a hurry if Minnesota can figure out No. 9 Maryland on Saturday morning. The Terrapins have been an elite program in 18 seasons under former Gophers coach Brenda Frese, who is 501-130 as Maryland’s coach. The Terrapins lead the Big Ten (15-2, 11-1) and are on a four-game winning streak since beating Michigan State by 40 points on Jan. 28.
It will be the Gophers’ biggest challenge of the season, but having Hubbard back will help. She scored eight points in 16 minutes at Rutgers on Wednesday, hitting all three of her field goals, two from 3-point range.
The ankle, she said, “felt pretty good to be honest with you,” she said. “There were times I was pushing off of it and it kind of bothered me a bit, but honestly it felt fine.”
Hubbard’s presence helped open the paint in a good first half — Klarke Sconiers scored 11 points on the block — before the Scarlet Knights unleashed their full-court press in the third quarter an 83-57 victory.
“I hope she can stay healthy and she can play more and more (against Maryland),” Whalen said, “because there’s no question our spacing is really good when Diva is out there.”
Maryland is 3-2 against ranked teams this season, its only losses to No. 25 Missouri State on Nov. 28 and No. 15 Ohio State on Jan. 25. Sophomore guard Ashley Owusu (19.1 ppg.) leads a group of six Terrapins scoring in double figures and has averaged 22.5 in her past five games.
Maryland won 90-73 this season in Minneapolis, pulling away in the third quarter — a familiar problem for the Gophers this season. The Terrapins scored 16 second-chance points on 14 offensive rebounds and forced 16 turnovers.
“It’s easier said than done, but if we can take care of it and keep them off the offensive glass, I thought we played well,” Whalen said. “I thought we played with them. Those are the two big keys for tomorrow.”
Minnesota committed an official 22 turnovers against Rutgers, which forced the pace in the second half and ran away. Maryland likes to play the same way. They lead the nation in scoring (92.4 ppg.) and rank eighth in scoring margin (20.0 ppg.)
“They’re going to get it and go; they’re going to run, they’re a very fast-paced offense,” Whalen said. “And they’re going to do some pressing as well, so we have to be ready for that too tomorrow.”