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Gophers guard Gadiva Hubbard, above vs. Milwaukee last week, is quickly becoming a key player again.

Less than three weeks ago, Gadiva Hubbard woke up on edge, nervous.

It was Nov. 5, the day of the Gophers women’s basketball team’s season opener. For Hubbard it would be the first time she’d play in a real game in nearly 20 months.

“That first game, there were a lot of butterflies,” Hubbard said. “My stomach was turning during warmups.”

In a difficult loss to a good Missouri State team, it showed. Hubbard had no field goal attempts and just two points.

But she was back. And things have, quickly, gotten better. In Sunday’s victory over then-19th-ranked Arizona State, Hubbard made seven of 13 shots, four of seven 3-pointers and scored 20 points.

“I felt like myself again,” she said.

This is important. The Gophers need Hubbard to replace much of the scoring lost when Kenisha Bell finished her career last season.

It can’t all be on Hubbard. Second-year coach Lindsay Whalen needs forward Taiye Bello and guard Jasmine Brunson — both seniors — to take steps on offense, and they have.

But a healthy Hubbard is a big deal. And, to her, it’s about time.

Hubbard came to the Gophers in 2016 from Virginia Beach, Virginia, where she helped Princess Anne High School win three straight state titles. She averaged 12.5 points as a freshman at Minnesota. A year later she was a starter and third-leading scorer (13.6 ppg behind Bell and Carlie Wagner) on a Gophers team that reached the second round of the NCAA tournament.

But during workouts the next summer she started feeling pain in her right foot, pain that kept getting worse. She wasn’t able to go when the Gophers started practicing in fall 2018. Ultimately, she had to have surgery that cost her the whole season.

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She was with the team, was at every practice and traveled with the Gophers. But she couldn’t play, and that was difficult.

“I tried to encourage the team,” Hubbard said. “I clapped, told them what I was seeing from the outside. But it was very hard not to be able to contribute.’’

Now she’s back.

The 5-9 junior guard’s talents are well-suited to the way Whalen wants to play. The Gophers are using a small starting lineup with Bello surrounded, essentially, with four guards — Destiny Pitts, Brunson, Sara Scalia and Hubbard. The Gophers spread the floor, creating driving lanes for Brunson and freshman point guard Jasmine Powell, Brunson’s backup.

And they shoot 20.3 3-pointers per game, up significantly from last season, with Pitts (13-for-25) and Hubbard (7-for-17) leading the way.

After that two-point return vs. Missouri State, Hubbard has scored 12, 10 and 20 points in the past three games. So it took about two weeks for a season’s worth of rust to come off. A versatile defender, Hubbard leads the Gophers with nine steals.

Whalen said she wasn’t surprised at how quickly Hubbard got up to speed. She watched Hubbard work hard in her rehab last season and in practice before this season.

“She did a good job,” Whalen said. “It was on her, to be in here, be diligent. And she did all those things.”

Said Brunson: “I came in with her, so it was tough seeing her out. We could have used her (last year). But seeing her get back, get right and play is good to see.”

And it feels good, too. Having been away from the game for so long, Hubbard has a new love for basketball.

“I know so many people have said this about injuries, but it is so true,” Hubbard said. “You do appreciate the game a lot more once you’ve come back. It makes you look at the game so differently.”

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