Sari Noga stepped to the line and calmly sank both free throws. Coming off back-to-back made three-pointers, they were point Nos. 7 and 8 for the senior guard in a 1:23 span.
And they all but iced the game — with a little more than 12 minutes remaining.
Behind a season-high 17 points from Noga, the Gophers women’s basketball team dominated a young Northwestern squad on both ends of the floor Sunday to post its first Big Ten victory of the season, 94-59 at Williams Arena. It was the Gophers’ first 90-point game against a conference opponent in 11 years.
“Coach [Pam Borton] challenged me … to step up and be a senior and help this team out. We needed a third scorer, and it’s my senior year, and I need to be that person,” said Noga, who finished 4-for-10 on three-point shots and is now 16-for-33 from behind the arc in her past five games. “Now I’m just going out there and playing … just finding that rhythm and finding that stroke.”
For the Gophers (12-5, 1-2), finding balance on offense has been a sticking point all season, and a lack of scoring depth contributed to losses to Michigan State and Iowa.
Rachel Banham had 28 points (21 in the second half), 10 rebounds, and tied a career high with seven assists against the Wildcats. But the star guard got plenty of help. Seven Gophers scored seven points or more on Alumni Day.
Sophomore Shayne Mullaney had 13 points and seven assists. Redshirt freshman Amanda Zahui B. finished with nine points and 13 rebounds. And Kayla Hirt (eight points) and Mikayla Bailey (seven points) played big minutes off the bench.
“I think tonight was a great game for us to show this team how they can play when they play together and we’re defending,” Borton said.
Senior Micaëlla Riché set the tone early with some energetic defense on Wildcats leading scorer and Minneapolis native Nia Coffey, forcing the freshman from Hopkins High School into a number of off-balance shots. Coffey missed her first nine attempts from the field, as Northwestern shot just 29.6 percent in the opening 20 minutes.
Minnesota, meanwhile, had little trouble scoring.
Banham and Bailey hit back-to-back three-pointers — sandwiched around a Coffey miss — to put the Gophers up 26-17 with 6:31 before the break, and the Gophers rolled from there. They closed the half on a 22-9 run to lead 42-26 off 48.1 percent shooting.
Northwestern (11-5, 1-2), coming off a win over No. 21 Purdue, made a bit of a charge after halftime, but Noga’s scoring spree put the game out of reach.
In her return to the Twin Cities, Coffey eventually found her shooting stroke and finished with 19 points and six rebounds. But only two of her points — both free throws — came before her team already trailed by 12 points.