Early in the fourth quarter Sunday, Rachel Banham was aware she was closing in on the 30-point mark in a tight game at Northwestern. The Gophers guard knew when she hit 40, too, thanks to teammates who loudly celebrated as she surpassed her previous career high of 39.
Banham didn’t keep track after that, preoccupied with carrying her team to a two-overtime, 112-106 victory. But when she banked in a three-point shot from an awkward angle, she sensed something magical was happening.
“No one does that,” she said Monday, laughing at the thought. “How does that go in? And I’m like, ‘If that’s going in, then I think a lot of shots are going to start falling.’ ”
A day after Banham tied the NCAA women’s single-game scoring record with 60 points, that unthinkable number didn’t seem much more real. The senior from Lakeville spent much of her Monday trying to catch up with a flood of congratulatory messages pouring in via text, phone, e-mail and social media, as well as fielding interview requests from national and local media.
Caught up in a fierce game, Banham didn’t realize she was closing in on 60 points, or that she was about to tie a record that had stood for nearly 30 years. Not until teammates on the bench shouted the number — and assistant coach Nikita Lowry Dawkins repeated it — did Banham know she had crushed the Big Ten record and equaled the NCAA mark set by Long Beach State’s Cindy Brown in 1987.
“Coach Nik grabbed me and she was like, ‘You just scored 60 points,’ ” said Banham, who on Monday was named player of the week by espnW and the Big Ten. “And I just was like, ‘Yeah!’ I had no idea what to say back. I was like, ‘I guess that did just happen.’
“I couldn’t even feel it. I didn’t know what was going on. It’s still crazy to think about.”
This season, Banham has set several Gophers career records, including points (currently 2,773) and field goals (977). She was expected to reach those marks, but Sunday’s performance came as a happy surprise, foreshadowed only by the steady elevation of her game through the Big Ten season.
Banham had scored 39 twice, once as a sophomore and on Jan. 7 against Illinois. She felt “stuck” on that number, she said, until Sunday, when she finished the first half with 20 points and kept rolling.
After banking in the three-pointer in the fourth quarter, Banham said it felt like anything she put up would go in. When her coaches and teammates recognized that, they worked to get the ball into her hands as often as possible — and got as swept up in the moment as she did.
“They were just amping me up,” said Banham, now averaging 25.8 points per game, third in the country. “Every time I hit a shot, [guard] Shayne [Mullaney] would run back with me. She was like, ‘You’re crazy! What is going on? This is great!’ She was so into it, and it just made me feel so good. It helped me make a lot more shots, honestly.”
Banham received a congratulatory text from former Gophers guard Lindsay Whalen, the previous holder of the program’s career scoring record.
Banham’s feat also became a much-discussed topic on social media among friends and strangers, with Gophers athletes from other sports, WNBA and NBA players, fans and lots of program alumnae weighing in.
Former teammate Amanda Zahui B. issued a stream of awestruck tweets from Turkey, where she is playing in a pro league. Late in the game, a Northwestern sports website tweeted, “RACHEL BANHAM PLEASE STOP.” Boyfriend and former Gophers player Andre Hollins chimed in, tweeting, “I think she wins every basketball argument from now on for life.”
When Banham broke the Gophers’ career scoring record earlier this season, she said it would take time for her to fully grasp what she had achieved. The mark she set Sunday felt no different.
“When you’re working toward [a career record], you think about it a lot more. It’s always kind of in the back of your mind,” said Banham, who singlehandedly outscored two top-15 women’s teams Sunday. “With scoring points like [Sunday], you don’t think about it. It just happens.
“It still hasn’t really fully hit me. I still don’t really know [how it happened]. It was just one of those days when everything is going right.”