After a 12-day break, the Gophers women’s basketball team was back on the court Friday afternoon. Star guard Rachel Banham, who sat out the last game, Dec. 6 against North Dakota, was back, too — her knee injury “mostly” healed after the long layoff.
The Gophers’ shooting strokes, however, still appeared to be on break against UCLA.
After two Banham free throws gave Minnesota an eight-point lead with 5:27 remaining, the Gophers never scored another point in a sloppy 58-55 loss in the opening game of the Subway Classic at Williams Arena.
The Gophers, who came into the game as the leading three-point-shooting team in the nation, shot 36.8 percent from the field and 35.7 percent from behind the arc. They turned the ball over 16 times and gave up 21 offensive rebounds.
They also made only 13 of 34 shots in the paint.
Coach Pam Borton had a pretty succinct message for her team afterward.
“We’ve got to be tougher,” she said. “We’ve got to be tougher finishing in the paint. We’ve got to be tougher going after loose balls. We’ve got to be tougher on the boards. And [we can’t] just rely on a couple kids on this team to do a lot on both ends of the floor.”
Banham and redshirt freshman Amanda Zahui B. carried the Gophers’ offense all game.
Banham scored a game-high 24 points, including 16 of her team’s first 23. She also had seven rebounds and five assists. Zahui B., a 6-5 center, picked up her sixth double-double of the season with 16 points, 10 rebounds and seven blocks.
But only three other players hit a field goal, and no one else scored more than six points.
Meanwhile, UCLA (5-5) executed down the stretch. Point guard Thea Lemberger hit two jumpers late, including what would be the game-winner from the left side of the key with 54 seconds left.
The Gophers had a chance to answer on the ensuing possession, trailing 56-55. They were unable to get it to Banham, and the ball found sophomore Jackie Johnson, who took — and missed — her only shot of the game, a jumper from the free throw line with 24 seconds left.
“We got a nice look at the basket with Jackie at the end, with a little 10-foot shot facing the basket,” Borton said. “We just need more of our kids to make some of those shots.”
Lemberger finished with 17 points for the Bruins, and Nirra Fields had 19.
Banham admitted afterward that her sore right knee wasn’t “near” 100 percent but said that no one had any excuse for the loss.
“I just need to hit more shots and be more aggressive in taking it inside the lane instead of settling for jump shots,” she said.