After scoring 14 points in 36 minutes in Minnesota's season-opening loss to Missouri State in early November, senior guard Jasmine Brunson was asked about her willingness to play significant minutes for the Gophers.
Brunson said she was not going to complain and was willing to do what it would take to help her team win, especially with it being her final season in the maroon and gold.
In the midst of a difficult stretch for the Gophers in the middle of Big Ten play, Brunson continued to fight through the adversity and take her game up a notch while still logging lots of minutes, all in an attempt to help her team win. In her last full six games, Brunson averaged around 35 minutes, 13.7 points and 3.8 assists while shooting 94.1 percent from the free throw line. Her play drew complimentary reviews as head coach Lindsay Whalen listed many different qualities she liked about Brunson's game, including her decision-making, intensity and leadership.
But since the first half of the Gophers' double-overtime win against Rutgers on Feb. 2, Minnesota has been without its senior floor general as Brunson left the game due to injury.
While the Gophers were able to seal the victory against Rutgers in her absence, the results have been mixed since. In the rematch against Wisconsin on Feb. 6, Minnesota took care of business in the first half but let the Badgers back in the game during the second half to make it interesting down the stretch. Four days later, the Gophers were blown out against Michigan at home and looked like they really missed Brunson.
However, during Brunson's absence, a bright spot has emerged in freshman guard Jasmine Powell. Powell was expected to step up for the Gophers and has accepted the challenge thus far.
Powell's initial rise started while Brunson was still on the court. She averaged 19.4 points, 4.6 rebounds and 3.6 assists per game in the last five games — her first games as a starter in her collegiate career. In each of those games, Powell led the team in scoring or tied for the lead.
Whalen hoped moving Powell into the starting lineup alongside fellow point guard Brunson would create more movement and spacing on the floor. Whalen's move looked as if it would do just that until Brunson went down. But Whalen's faith in Powell has not wavered, and she said earlier this season that Powell is prepared for any challenge thrown her way.
As the Gophers move into the final stretch of the season, they will need Powell to continue her stellar play and hope to return Brunson sooner rather than later if they want to make a push into the NCAA Tournament. As of Tuesday, Feb. 11, ESPN Bracketology projections list Minnesota as one of the first four teams outside the tournament field.
"Obviously it’s going to be tough," Brunson said earlier this season. "It’s going to be hard but we all have to rise to the challenge. It’s the Big Ten, these teams aren’t going to feel sorry for us so we just have to figure it out.”