After suffering two decisive losses last week, the Gophers women's basketball team took a step forward Wednesday night with a 74-51 rout of Denver at Williams Arena.
The Gophers took a 90-68 beating against Virginia last Thursday and followed that with a subpar performance against nationally ranked Kansas on Sunday. The results didn't look good on paper, but those defeats revealed some areas the Gophers needed to improve, specifically post play, transition defense and closing out games.
"You play teams like that -- that are in the Top 25 -- they really expose your weaknesses," Gophers coach Pam Borton said. "We still have a lot of work to do. I think we fixed some of the things in the last couple days."
Sophomore guard Rachel Banham set the pace Wednesday with 21 points, seven rebounds, seven assists and four steals. Junior forward Micaella Riche had 19 points and six rebounds after struggling against Virginia and Kansas.
The effort appeared to give her some confidence.
"The last two games have been rough, but I just found myself overthinking a lot," Riche said. "I just came out not worrying too much."
The Gophers built an early lead behind Banham's and Riche's scoring and a 12-4 run to start the game. The team shot 60.7 percent from the field in the first half.
The Pioneers sank three consecutive three-pointers to cut the deficit to 16-13, but Banham responded with a three-pointer to squelch that momentum. Banham threaded a dart to Riche in the post for two points to put the Gophers up 27-18 midway through the half., and they stretched that to 41-27 at the break.
Strong post play contributed to the Gophers' high shooting percentage, which settled at 50.8 percent by night's end. Minnesota dominated in the paint, outscoring Denver 42-14. The Pioneers also struggled from three-point range, shooting 2-for-12.
Kionna Kellogg and Kayla Hirt each scored nine points for the Gophers.
Another positive for the Gophers: They had only 10 turnovers.
"I think that's something that was our Achilles' heel last year, averaging 18-19 turnovers a game," Borton said. "That's giving games away. That's losing games on our own."
Gophers freshman guard Shayne Mullaney of Eden Prairie started in place of Mikayla Bailey for the third consecutive game.
Bailey has been ill and is not expected to return to action this week.
Wednesday's victory was a good way to start a season-long five-game homestand leading into Big Ten play. Minnesota never trailed and at one point held a 31-point lead.