The final score looked tidy enough. The game itself was anything but.
After scoring 46 first-half points and jumping out to a 17-point lead at the break, the Gophers women’s basketball team staved off a comeback from a feisty Southern Methodist team to advance into the round of 16 of the WNIT with a 77-70 victory at Williams Arena on Sunday.
But it had to do it with star guard Rachel Banham on the bench wearing a walking boot for the final 15 minutes, 19 seconds of the game.
Banham went down awkwardly after getting tangled with an SMU player while diving for a loose ball on the offensive end. She was helped off the court and went directly to the locker room with her team up 16. She returned to the bench a few minutes later, but in a boot.
The team called it a “leg injury.”
The remaining Gophers made sure it didn’t signal the end of their season.
“We knew that once Rachel went down, we had to win for her because she does so much for our team,” senior Sari Noga said.
Noga led the way for the Gophers with 22 points, and Amanda Zahui B. had 10 points and 12 rebounds, despite playing only 22 minutes because of foul trouble.
All seven Gophers who played hit at least one field goal, and five scored in double figures for the first time since March 25, 2012.
In the end, it was just enough for the Gophers (22-12) to squeak by before an announced crowd of 587.
“I thought our kids battled and just really pulled it out,” coach Pam Borton said. “We had a great lead, played spectacular in the first half, but when you have your two stars sitting on the bench, I was really proud of our kids for finishing the game.”
Trailing by nine with 1:28 remaining, SMU (18-14) quickly cut the lead to four after back-to-back baskets from Keena Mays.
But the Mustangs missed all three of their field goal attempts in the final minute, and Mikayla Bailey knocked down three of four free throws for Minnesota.
Mays finished with a game-high 34 points and set the SMU school record for points in a season.
Bailey had 11 points, and Kayla Hirt scored 12.
Borton said Banham, who scored 11 points, would be evaluated Sunday evening. She didn’t want to speculate on the first-team All-Big Ten guard status moving forward. Borton did say it was “definitely not a knee” injury; it was likely her foot.
If Banham has her way, she will be on the floor.
“She already told us she’s going to be playing in the next game,” Noga said.