As much as Gophers women's basketball coach Pam Borton appreciates Rachel Banham and Micaella Riche, she hoped to see them carry a little less of the load in Sunday's championship game of the Best Buy Classic. She got her wish, as plenty of others chipped in during a 75-60 victory over Villanova at Williams Arena.
Banham and Riche scored 63 of their team's 87 points Saturday as the Gophers won their season opener against Washington State. Sunday, they led the way again, as Riche made seven of eight shots from the field for a game-high 20 points and Banham added 13. But several teammates -- including Sari Noga, Shayne Mullaney, Kionna Kellogg and Kayla Hirt -- stepped up in a well-balanced effort before an announced crowd of 2,915.
Noga was part of a superb defensive performance and scored nine points to go with her game-high 10 rebounds. Mullaney, a freshman, distributed four assists in 22 minutes and confidently handled point guard duties when Banham needed a rest. Kellogg helped hold the Wildcats' star forward, Laura Sweeney, scoreless in the second half, while Hirt had eight points and six rebounds in her second college game.
The Gophers led from start to finish in a much cleaner game than their messy, turnover-laden performance on Saturday. They outrebounded Villanova 39-27, lost the ball only five times in the second half and led by as many as 19 points.
"It was a great team effort from everybody," Borton said. "More people got involved. They knew they had to help these two; [Riche and Banham] can't score 29 and 34 every night.
"Everybody did their roles, whether it was rebounding, defense or knocking a couple of shots down. That's what great teams do."
Riche said she sees a significant difference in the Gophers' confidence level this season. She and fellow juniors Noga and Kellogg, she said, have a better understanding of what it will take for the Gophers to improve, and they feel prepared to lead their team forward.
Riche took a major role during the opening weekend. With a vastly improved inside game, she made 17 of 25 shots from the field in the two games while drawing a rash of fouls. Her teammates followed suit, as the Gophers converted 26 of 31 free throws against Villanova -- and 62 of 80 in the tournament.
Their assertive defense harassed the Wildcats into several early turnovers and poor shot selection. Sweeney, who scored 24 against South Dakota State on Saturday, scored only three points in the first 14 minutes against the Gophers. In the second half, she was limited by foul trouble, opening the way for Riche to pour in 15 points on 5-for-5 shooting.
The Gophers opened up a 12-point advantage in the first half and led 33-26 at halftime. Banham, who finished the tournament with 47 points, six assists and seven steals, was named most valuable player. Riche and Sweeney joined her on the all-tournament team, along with Villanova guard Rachel Roberts, South Dakota State forward Megan Waytashek and Washington State guard Lia Galdeira.
Waytashek, of Lino Lakes, led the Jackrabbits to a 65-56 overtime victory over Washington State in Sunday's consolation game. SDSU, which trailed by four at halftime, outscored the Cougars 15-6 in the extra period.