One black-and-white shot from a Star Tribune photo gallery shows University of Minnesota women’s basketball star Rachel Banham adjusting an elaborate knee brace before a track workout last year on what appears to be a typically wet and cold April day. It was the first week the senior guard from Lakeville had been cleared to run following surgery to repair a torn ACL and a partly torn MCL.
That same gallery includes a close-up of Banham’s scarred right knee, and one look at her surgeon’s handiwork is evidence that her rehab must have been both extensive and painful. Yet another photo from the track session — the one republished with this editorial — shows Banham smiling from ear to ear. Maybe she knew what was coming.
On Super Bowl Sunday, while many of us were preparing to watch multimillionaires in helmets, Banham put on a record-setting show of her own in Evanston, Ill., where she scored 60 points in a double-overtime victory over Northwestern. That tied the record for most points scored in an NCAA women’s basketball game. If you have access to the Big Ten Network and still missed Banham’s offensive explosion in Evanston, you should be kicking yourself.
Earlier in this, her comeback season, Banham passed Gophers and Lynx star Lindsay Whalen to become the top career scorer in Gophers women’s basketball history. And 23 games into her medical redshirt senior season, she’s still wearing a knee brace.
“I remember when I had surgery and I couldn’t even walk,” she recalled on Monday. “You have those thoughts in your mind that you’re never going to be the player that you were before, and your confidence kind of wavers here and there. But now that I’m hitting my stride, I don’t really think back about it anymore.”
Banham made the commitment to return for her last year of eligibility in part because she wants to play in the NCAA tournament for the first time in her career. The Gophers have three home games remaining this season, including Thursday’s matchup with Nebraska, and they need a strong finish to get that tourney bid.
Minnesota fans can do their part by filling Williams Arena. With Banham on the court, they just might see some more women’s basketball history.