The Gophers women's basketball team continued its tailspin Sunday, when it lost to Northwestern 70-63 at Williams Arena for its seventh loss in nine games.
The offense stalled when leading scorer Rachel Banham sat for stretches in both halves because of foul trouble. The scoring droughts proved too much to overcome for the Gophers (15-11, 4-8 Big Ten).
Banham assisted on a Sari Noga three-pointer that gave the Gophers a 49-45 lead with just more than 11 minutes left in the game. But the Gophers didn't score for nearly seven minutes after that -- most of them without Banham. By the time she re-entered and Micaella Riche's basket finally ended the skid, the Gophers trailed 58-52.
"We just needed some other people to step up and really hold the fort down for a few minutes," Gophers coach Pam Borton said.
But no one stepped up in Banham's absence.
Riche scored 17 points and led the team with eight rebounds. Borton said she wanted to get Riche the ball more often in the post. She has been the team's second go-to scorer this season.
Banham finished with 19 points, and four fouls, and Noga added 12 points. The rest of the team scored just 15 points.
The problems weren't all offensive, though.
The Gophers rank last in the Big Ten, by a wide margin, in points allowed and again struggled to slow their opponent. They gave up 70 points to a team that was scoring just a shade more than 59 points per game.
"If we're not going to be able to score, then we've got to be able to do it on the defensive end," Borton said.
Northwestern (12-13, 4-8) mixed up its defensive schemes to try to slow Banham, the conference's second-leading scorer.
"They were denying me the ball most times, so that was tough," Banham said. "I think on the defensive end I just played dumb. I mean, really stupid fouls, so I just have to be smarter than that."
The Wildcats saw a different team when Banham sat.
"When you watch [the Gophers] on tape, what happens is her teammates are feeding off of her; they're playing well off of her," Northwestern coach Joe McKeown said.
The Gophers jumped ahead early when Noga hit three consecutive three-pointers to build a 12-5 lead. But they collectively made just five of their other 19 three-point tries, including several air balls.
The Gophers led 30-29 at halftime, but in the second half they gave up 41 points and shot less than 30 percent from the floor.
The Wildcats had four players score 12 or more points, including Kendall Hackney, who led all scorers with 20 points.
Derek Wetmore is a University of Minnesota student reporter on assignment with the Star Tribune.