There was nothing pretty about it, and that’s exactly what head coach Pam Borton seemed to like so much about Minnesota’s 67-54 win over Auburn to win the Subway Classic on Sunday afternoon.
Two days after a lackluster performance left the Gophers with a 58-55 loss to UCLA — their first defeat at Williams Arena all season — Borton said her team needed to get “tougher.”
The Gophers (10-3) seemed to take that message to heart.
Despite struggling to break Auburn’s full-court press — not to mention never looking all that comfortable against the Tigers’ zone — the Gophers did all the little things to pull out the win. They battled in the low block for rebounds, hit the floor for loose balls and pestered Auburn’s guards in the back court.
It added up to a win.
“I don’t think we played great, but we played well enough to win and shot the ball well tonight,” Borton said. “It was a great team effort by everybody.”
Junior Rachel Banham played all 40 minutes and scored 22 points, and redshirt freshman Amanda Zahui B. had 16 points, seven rebounds and six blocks, despite early foul trouble.
Both were named to the all-tournament team; Banham was the MVP.
But both players’ numbers weren’t all that different from those in the loss Friday. The Gophers stars simply got more help Sunday.
Senior Sari Noga broke out of a shooting slump to knock down three three-point shots and score nine crucial points. Micaëlla Riché had seven points, Shayne Mullaney had seven assists, and all but one Gopher made a field goal.
Noga answered a mini Auburn run with five minutes remaining, knocking down a shot from the wing to put Minnesota up by 12. Zahui B. scored off a feed from Banham the next time down the floor, and the game was never in doubt again.
“I think last game that Coach said we needed a third scorer, and Sari stepped up and showed that,” Banham said. “She’s a great three-point shooter, and I think she didn’t hesitate today. … She made those big threes when we needed it.”
It was a struggle early for the Gophers, especially in dealing with Auburn’s full-court pressure.
They turned the ball over seven times before hitting their first field goal 6:08 into the game. Going back to the finish of Friday’s loss, Minnesota went 12:24 of game time between made field goals.
But Banham drove and hit difficult jumpers in the lane on back-to-back possessions, and the Gophers were soon off and running.
“Again, I don’t think we played great, but we worked really, really hard,” Borton said. “I thought we outworked them.”
Tyrese Tanner led Auburn with 15 points, and freshman Alina Starr of DeLaSalle had two points while playing 21 minutes for the Tigers (9-4).