Rachel Banham is adding more examples to contrast the notion that basketball requires more than one dynamic player to have a legitimate chance to win.
Sure, the path is more difficult without support, but the sophomore guard posted her fifth 30-point game of the season to help the Minnesota Golden Gophers soar past the Iowa Hawkeyes Thursday night at Williams Arena. Minnesota won 72-60.
“I just had a lot of confidence and I was attacking the rim. That’s something I need to do from the start,” Banham said.
In nearly all of her post-game interviews, Banham has placed a high value on internal spirit, with this season serving a demonstration of her new-found mental endurance. Against the Hawkeyes (16-8, 5-5), Banham had 34 points and nine rebounds, hitting 10 of 19 field goals and 11 of 14 free throws.
After an 11-point outing against Nebraska caused her to drop behind Tayler Hill for the Big Ten conference scoring lead, Banham easily took first place again; Hill scored just 15 points in a double-overtime win against Wisconsin.
“(Banham) was the back-breaker for us. I thought she hit some really tough shots in the first half while we were contesting her,” said Iowa head coach Lisa Bluder.
Iowa also had difficulty contesting Minnesota (15-9, 4-6) in field goal accuracy, making only 28 percent of their shots. Minnesota hit 45 percent of their field goals, but they did need a late surge to ensure victory in their only meeting of the season with their conference neighbor to the south.
The Gophers led by as much as 14 in the first half, but a Melissa Dixon jumper with 3:05 left in the second half gave them a mere 62-59 lead.
On Minnesota’s next possession, Banham saw no openings in Iowa’s defense, so she launched a deep three-pointer (even by current WNBA standards) late in the shot clock that drained perfectly, energizing most of the 3,528 in attendance. The play was partly the result of Borton refusing to sub Banham for long despite playing the last 6:05 with four fouls.
“We switched up match-ups so I guarded somebody that I could play off of a little bit, so I think that helped,” Banham said.
Micaella Riche rediscovered her rebounding poise, earning six points and 13 rebounds for the Gophers.
“We played outstanding defense tonight. It all started with the post and that is where we need to play our best,” said Minnesota head coach Pam Borton. “Micaëlla and (Katie) Loberg were extremely well disciplined on defense which forced them to take the tough, contested shots.”
Indeed, Iowa’s top players embarked on a fruitless search to find their form. Jaime Printy scored 21 points, but made just six of 22 shots.
Morgan Johnson’s conversion percentage was not much higher, making only three of nine field goals. Her night ended with a double-double of 13 points and 10 rebounds, mostly due to making all seven free throws.
“It will be interesting to look at the film to see if we missed open shots or if we did not get good shots,” Bluder said.
Minnesota hits the road for their next game Sunday, when they visit Illinois.