Gophers’ high-scoring road star Banham hoping to put on show at home
MINNEAPOLIS -- Rachel Banham seems to like setting records on the road. The Gophers' senior guard broke Minnesota's all-time scoring record in Puerto Rico. She tied the NCAA single-game scoring record with 60 points at Northwestern. She became th...
MINNEAPOLIS - Rachel Banham seems to like setting records on the road.
The Gophers’ senior guard broke Minnesota’s all-time scoring record in Puerto Rico. She tied the NCAA single-game scoring record with 60 points at Northwestern. She became the Big Ten’s career scoring leader Sunday at Michigan State.
“Sorry, fans, for not doing that at home,” she said.
But Banham finally can do something special in front of her home crowd today. The Gophers (18-9, 10-6) could boost themselves into NCAA tournament contention by upsetting fifth-ranked Ohio State (23-4, 15-1) at Williams Arena.
“It would be great to come here and have a really good show for the fans, show them what we’ve been doing and what I’ve been doing on the road,” Banham said Tuesday. “I’m not purposefully doing that, but I’m going to try to put on a good show tomorrow.”
A dream sendoff for Banham, Shayne Mullaney and Mikayla Bailey on Senior Night would be to beat the Buckeyes in their last regular-season home game. Minnesota’s last win against a top-five opponent was over No. 3 Ohio State, 66-63 in overtime in 2005.
“We’re all locked in,” Bailey said. “We’re even more hungry to come out and win at home with the crowd behind us. With the seniors and this last hurrah, we want to get this win and go to the NCAA tournament.”
The Gophers’ RPI is No. 80, so they’re not on the bubble just yet. ESPN bracket expert Charlie Creme wrote recently that “it’s now almost certain (Banham) will be finishing her career in the WNIT.”
As memorable as it has been for Mullaney and Bailey to watch Banham’s run at history the past few weeks, their goal from the beginning of the season was to help get her to the NCAA tournament for the first time. She was injured when the Gophers played there last season and lost in the first round.
“We’ve been talking about that a lot,” Mullaney said. “If anything, we want to get to the NCAA tournament again, but we want to get there for Rachel since she’s never been there. It was such a great experience getting there last year. We want to get there this year and make it further, especially for Rachel. She deserves it.”
Banham ranks second in the nation in scoring (27.5 points per game) and first in Big Ten games (30.5). She reached 2,921 career points to surpass former Penn State star Kelly Mazzante for the Big Ten all-time scoring record.
With a typical game of around 30 points at Michigan State, Banham would have been on track to break the record at the Barn. But she scored 52 in a 114-106 loss. Aerial Powers, the Big Ten’s third-leading scorer, had 40 points for the Spartans.
Banham said she never knew how many points separated her from Mazzante.
“I didn’t know until after how much I needed to break the record,” she said. “I really had no idea. I didn’t know I was 50 away. It didn’t know if I was 100 away. It was kind of funny that it worked out that way. It would’ve been cool to do it at home. I guess I never want to do anything at home, clearly. It’s just weird how it worked out. I’m doing anything I can to win.”
The Buckeyes boast the conference’s No. 2 scorer in Kelsey Mitchell, who averages 24.8 points. Banham is looking forward to playing Mitchell for the first time. They’re likely the top two candidates for conference player of the year honors.
“I try to bring the tempo from the start, and I’m trying to score regardless of who is playing well,” Banham said. “But it’s fun playing against good players, especially offensive ones like Kelsey and Aerial. It’s a challenge for me. If they’re going to score, I’m going to come right back at you.”
Banham and Carlie Wagner are the nation’s top scoring tandem (46.6 points per game). But Ohio State scored 117 points in its last game against Illinois with Mitchell and Ameryst Alston getting 35 and 39, respectively.
Fifty points from Banham might not be enough if the Gophers’ defense doesn’t improve. They’ve lost two consecutive games while giving up a combined 207 points to Indiana and Michigan State.
“A lot of it is effort-based,” coach Marlene Stollings said. “We need to exert more effort and energy on the defensive end. I expect to see a different team on that end of the floor tomorrow.”