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No NCAA Tourney for Banham, Gophers

It was a memorable season for Gophers senior All-American Rachel Banham, but she found out on Selection Monday that her team failed to qualify for the NCAA tournament.

It was a memorable season for Gophers senior All-American Rachel Banham, but she found out on Selection Monday that her team failed to qualify for the NCAA tournament.

Banham, who earned Big Ten player of the year honors and became the conference’s all-time leading scorer, finishes her career without playing in the NCAA tournament. Playing in the WNIT is a bittersweet ending for a player who was the face of women’s college basketball for the past two months.

Minnesota (19-11) will play Milwaukee (19-12) on Wednesday at Williams Arena. The winner advances to play the winner of South Dakota-Creighton in the second round Saturday.

“We are certainly disappointed about not having an opportunity to play in the Big Dance,” Gophers second-year coach Marlene Stollings said. “Our team knows we were extremely close and feels badly about not competing for our university and community on that level. As we build this program, we are clear in our vision that we will pursue NCAA tournaments and Top-25 status. The good news for our team and fans is that we are not done yet. We are excited to be hosting the WNIT opener. What an opportunity for our fans to come and see this team continue to play in a highly competitive tournament.”

Milwaukee finished tied with Wright State for second place in the Horizon League with a 12-6 record. They have two Minnesotans on their roster. Junior guard Sierra Ford-Washington (13.4 points per game) is from Richfield. Junior center Christina Wakeman (2.2 points) is from Spring Lake Park.

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Banham, who averages 27.6 points this season, surpassed former Gophers All-American and Minnesota Lynx point guard Lindsay Whalen as the school’s all-time leading scorer this season. But Whalen reached three NCAA tournaments in four seasons at Minnesota, including a Sweet 16 in 2003 and Final Four in 2004.

Banham led Minnesota to the Women’s Basketball Invitational postseason title at Williams Arena as a freshman in 2012. The Gophers went to the WNIT in 2013 and 2014, but the Lakeville native was sidelined with a knee injury when they played in the NCAA tournament last year.

The Gophers finished 11-7 in the Big Ten this year, highlighted by an upset win over No. 5 Ohio State on Feb. 24 at home. But that wasn’t enough to boost their resume. They lost four of their last five games, including a Big Ten tournament second-round game against Northwestern.

The biggest deterrent to an NCAA tournament berth was Minnesota’s No. 81 RPI, which was dragged down by a nonconference schedule strength (230) ranked as the worst of the NCAA tournament bubble teams.

The Big Ten had five teams make the NCAA tournament field with Maryland (No. 2 seed), Ohio State (No. 3), Michigan State (No. 4), Indiana (No. 9) and Purdue (No. 11).

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