Disappointing. That was the word Gopher coach Pam Borton and guard Rachel Banham used over and over after Saturday’s Big Ten opener, an 81-56 home loss to Michigan State.
The game started just as Borton had hoped: The Gophers (11-4, 0-1 conference) controlled play early due to some stifling defense and, despite some uncharacteristically poor shooting, Minnesota had tied the score 16-16 with 6:42 left in the first half.
Then Banham picked up her second foul and went to the bench — and the Spartans took over, closing the half on a 22-5 run.
The Gophers never recovered.
“Our rebounding — lack of rebounding — and lack of offensive execution just sent us into a tailspin in the first half,” Borton said.
With Banham on the sidelines, the Gophers repeatedly threw up quick, difficult baskets, and the Spartans (9-5) quickly transitioned those misses into fast-break points.
As Michigan State piled up points, Minnesota did not hit a basket in the final 5:42.
Banham, not masking any of the frustration from her 6-for-19 shooting performance, said the loss might’ve been the worst she’s experienced in her three seasons playing at Williams Arena.
“It felt bad,” she said. “We’ve had other bad ones, but this one felt really crappy. I’m trying to use the right words here.”
Banham finished with 13 points and five assists. Redshirt freshman Amanda Zahui B. scored 21 points and had seven rebounds, but Michigan State outrebounded the Gophers 42-26.
Zahui B. and Banham combined for 2-for-14 shooting in the first half, and Zahui B. struggled mightily on both ends of the floor with Michigan State’s size and physical play.
The Spartans often kept three players on or around her in the post, including 6-7 forward Madison Williams, whose long reach seemed to affect Zahui B. on a number of makeable shots in the paint.
Borton didn’t offer any excuses for her 6-5 post’s struggles. Welcome to the Big Ten, she said.
“Amanda’s a freshman, and she’s going to play like a freshman at times,” Borton said. “She’s got to get used to this and learn from it and get tougher and finish some of those shots in the paint.”
Zahui B. did bounce back in the second half, hitting seven of 12 shots from the field, but by then, the game was out of reach.
Five players scored in double figures for Michigan State, led by reserve Tori Jankoska with 14 points. Kiana Johnson had 13 points and nine assists.
Minnesota made just 15 of 35 shots in the paint, compared to the Spartans’ 22 of 32. The Gophers had zero fast-break points to the Spartans’ 14.
“Obviously, we’re not where we need to be,” Borton said. “We’ve got to have a short memory and get Iowa on the road Wednesday.”