EVANSTON, Ill. – All season long, the Gophers women's basketball team has been searching for a third scorer.
On Saturday, for one afternoon at least, coach Pam Borton found one.
Kayla Hirt scored a career-high 16 points and had eight rebounds as the Gophers defeated Northwestern 82-64 at Welsh-Ryan Arena.
The team's two regular scoring leaders also had monster games. Rachel Banham led the Gophers with 32 points, and 6-5 redshirt freshman Amanda Zahui B. had 16 points and 18 rebounds for her 12th double-double of the season.
The victory for Minnesota (17-9, 6-6 Big Ten) was its fourth in a row, got the Gophers to .500 in the conference for the first time this season and also was a milestone win for Borton. It improved her career record to 300-194.
The Gophers routed Northwestern (14-11, 4-8) by a score of 94-59 when the teams met Jan. 5 at Williams Arena. But they trailed for most of this game until midway through the second half. Then it turned into a seesaw battle for a while.
Starting with a Sari Noga's layup for the Gophers, which tied the score at 58 with 6:14 left, the visitors outscored the Wildcats 26-6 the rest of the game.
Zahui B.'s layup and free throw, on an assist from Hirt, put the Gophers ahead to stay at 61-58.
Nia Coffey, a freshman from Hopkins, led the Wildcats with 23 points, made a basket to cut the lead to one.
A 9-0 Gophers run followed, all on high-percentage shots. Noga, Banham, Noga and Zahui B. all scored on layups. Banham also was fouled on her basket and made a free throw.
That run made it 70-60 Gophers.
Coffey also had a team-high six rebounds plus four assists. Lauren Douglas added 14 points for Northwestern.
The Gophers, with a small 10-player roster to begin with, played with only seven available players. Shayne Mullaney was on the bench in street clothes because of lingering symptoms after a concussion. Jackie Johnson is out for the season with a knee injury and Stabresa McDaniel was out with a personal issue.
The nation's second-best three-point shooting team was awful from behind the arc, 2-for-11 for 35 percent, but the Gophers shot 47.9 percent overall to Northwestern's 38.5. The Wildcats were 6-for-20 on three-point attempts.
And everything worked out. The Gophers committed only 12 fouls, so nobody got into foul trouble. And the seven Gophers who played all contributed.
Noga finished with 12 points, four rebounds and four assists, Mikayla Bailey had 10 assists, and Micaëlla Riché had seven rebounds. And Joanna Hedstrom, who didn't take a shot, had two assists.
The Gophers outrebounded the Wildcats 49-33, and 15 of those boards came on the offensive end. Zahui B. had seven offensive rebounds, and she had two blocks, too.