Battle fills the Gophers’ stat sheet and leaves team smiling, too

Jeff Wheeler, Star Tribune/Star Tribune/TNS

Apparently there are two very different sides to Gophers freshman Amaya Battle.

On the court? Battle, from Hopkins, is mature beyond her years. As a reserve, she is playing the third-most minutes on the team because of the ways she can contribute; scoring, defense, rebounding, blocks. She backs up point guard Katie Borowicz, though they play a lot together, too.

"She doesn't get fazed by anything,'' Borowicz said after practice Tuesday.

Off the court? Gophers coach Lindsay Whalen said she's rarely been around someone so … well, joyful.

"I've never seen someone so fired up about tacos before,'' Whalen joked. "What we're eating, what we're doing after the game. She has an unrivaled joy for life that's incredible to be around. She gives life to everyone around her.''

So: Off the court it's the little joys, On it, it's the little things, the way Battle can fill a stat sheet, that has made her so valuable.

Battle is first on the team in blocks (1.2) and assists (5.2), second in rebounding (7.2) and steals (1.5), third in minutes (28.5) and fourth in scoring (11.3).

She is leading all Big Ten freshmen in both rebounding and assists.

"I really don't know where I found this rebounding ability,'' Battle said. "I've always been decent from the guard spot. I can read when someone is going to put up a shot, and read where the ball is going to go from there. A lot of people don't block me out, so I can find my way under the basket.''

Battle and fellow freshmen Mara Braun, Borowicz and Mallory Heyer continue to grow in their first college season. There have been downs — road losses at North Dakota State and at Virginia Saturday — and ups. Whalen was thrilled with the way her young team rebounded from a three-point loss at Virginia to beat Liberty on Sunday in what was the first set of back-to-back games in their college careers.

Battle, Braun, Heyer and Borowicz combine to provide 67% of the team's scoring. Braun (18.2 ppg) and Borowicz (11.5) have been particularly effective from three-point range. Braun and Heyer have already won conference freshman of the week honors.

But, coming off the bench, Battle might contribute more than anyone. Her strong 5-11 frame allows her to get to places on the court where she can be effective.

"Her physicality instantly translates,'' Whalen said. "A lot of times she goes in and she stays out there because she does so many good things.''

Battle is one of the team's better midrange shooters, and she has scored nine or more points in four of six games. But, look at her rebounds and blocks and you might think she plays in the post. There was one play Whalen talked about from Sunday's game against Liberty where Battle came in rotation and got a key block.

"Me and Mags, we sit together as the game progresses,'' Battle said, referring to teammate Maggie Czinano. "We'll be like, 'OK, when we go in we need to do this, we need to bring this.' We basically read how the game is going and then, when we get in, we take what we found and try to apply it to help the team.''

Battle had 17 points and nine rebounds in a victory over Lehigh. She had seven points, 10 rebounds and six assists against Virginia. Sunday she filled the stat sheet against Liberty with 14 points, seven boards, five assists and that block.

"I take pride in that,'' Battle said of her versatility. "If I have an off night, I can still help my team in some way. If not scoring, rebounds. Play defense.''