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Women's basketball: Gophers advance in WNIT

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By Marcus R. Fuller

St. Paul Pioneer Press

MINNEAPOLIS — The Gophers women’s basketball team ended the regular season with hopes of making the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2009.

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That didn’t happen.

So Minnesota’s players were on a quest to prove themselves with a run in the WNIT, and they started with a 62-60 comeback win over Wisconsin-Green Bay on Wednesday night in front of 950 at Williams Arena.

Junior guard Rachel Banham, who finished with 31 points, broke Laura Coenen’s school single-season scoring record with her 709th point on a three-pointer with 45 seconds left in the second half.

Problem was that her team still trailed 60-58. So she nailed another shot from beyond arc for the game-winner with 11 seconds remaining.

Minnesota (21-12) advances to play the winner of Southern Methodist-Texas Southern on Monday in the second round.

Banham, the Big Ten’s leading scorer, practically willed her team to a come-from-behind victory against Wisconsin in the Big Ten tournament, when the Gophers trailed by 16 points.

Minnesota coach Pam Borton thought her team was snubbed by the NCAA selection committee after finishing 8-8 in the Big Ten and winning the Big Ten tournament game against the Badgers, but the Gophers weren’t among the five Big Ten teams to make the NCAA field.

Banham scored 14 points in the first half Wednesday, but the Gophers still trailed 33-23 after shooting 10 for 34 from the field (29.4 percent) and committing eight turnovers.

Green Bay freshman Tesha Buck, a Red Wing native, matched Banham’s offensive spark with 13 of her 18 points in the first half.

The Gophers opened the second half on an 11-0 run to take a 34-33 lead after Zahui B.’s two free throws at the 15:27 mark. But the 6-foot-5 center and Big Ten freshman of the year had to leave the game after picking up her third foul.

Banham was whistled for her fourth foul on a questionable charging call with 14:51 left. Sophomore Mikayla Bailey tried to provide a go-to scoring option until her standout teammates returned. Her three-pointer tied the score 37-37.

Banham checked back into the game after nearly nine minutes on the bench with her team trailing by a basket with 5:42 remaining. She found Zahui B. under the basket for a layup to tie it 46-46.

Green Bay took control with layups by Kaili Lukan for a six-point lead with under two minutes left in the game, but Banham wouldn’t let the season end.

Following Banham’s go-ahead three-pointer, Zahui B. blocked Sam Terry’s shot to seal the win. She finished with 17 points and 14 rebounds.

The Pioneer Press is a media partner with Forum News Service.

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