Too much speed, too much size, too much outside shooting — take your pick. The Gophers women’s basketball team seemed to have an advantage in every facet of the game through 20 minutes against an overmatched and overwhelmed Miami team in Thursday’s Big Ten/ACC Challenge at Williams Arena.
Redshirt freshman Amanda Zahui B. and junior Rachel Banham combined for 27 points in the first half as the Gophers shot 61 percent from the field and led by as many as 25 points before the break.
Gopher coach Pam Borton went as far as to call her team’s first-half play “perfection.”
Of course, they still had to play another 20 minutes. In the end, the Gophers (8-2) chalked up another win, 74-67, but it didn’t come easily.
The Hurricanes started the second half on a 13-0 run, using a full-court press and a newfound physical approach on defense to slow down the Gophers and quickly turn a laugher into a slugfest.
Senior Micaëlla Riché had15 points — 10 in the second half — and Banham scored a game-high 27 for the Gophers.
“We knew they’d come out and give us a fight, and they came out and did everything we expected them to,” Borton said. “I’m proud of my team for finishing with the win.”
The Gophers were just a few days removed from a red-eye flight back from Honolulu, where they completed a stretch of five-games in eight days with three weekend games, including an overtime loss to Hawaii on Sunday.
Borton said she was worried about her team coming out flat. That fear went away quickly.
Zahui B. got the Gophers going early. The 6-5 center dominated down low, scoring Minnesota’s first seven points and 14 of its first 27. Then, as the Hurricanes defense began sagging toward the post, the Gophers shooters took over. Banham hit back-to-back three-pointers, and Minnesota knocked down four of seven attempts from behind the arch to lead by 19 at the break.
Zahui B. got in foul trouble quickly to start the second half and fouled out with 12:01 remaining after a sequence in which she picked up two fouls in an eight-second span. She finished with 18 points, seven rebounds and three blocks.
Banham was relegated to the bench due to fouls for a stretch of the second half, as well.
Meanwhile, the Gophers continued to struggle to get into their offensive sets.
“We just had to go out there and play with confidence and poise,” said sophomore guard Shayne Mullaney.
And that’s what Riché provided down the stretch. The senior post scored on back-to-back possessions as Banham sat, and Minnesota was able to ward off the Hurricanes (5-3) from there.