The Navy women’s basketball team never had stepped foot in Williams Arena until Sunday. The Midshipmen never even had faced a Big Ten team before.
But the Gophers’ grueling 62-55 victory had all the hallmarks that define Big Ten play — it was a grinding, slow-paced matchup that came down to end-of-game execution.
“Navy’s a really tough team to defend, a tough matchup for us,” coach Pam Borton said. “I was very proud of our players for really just finding a way to win this game today.”
Junior guard Rachel Banham led the way with 18 points, and redshirt freshman Amanda Zahui B., fresh off the fourth triple-double in school history, had 16 points and 13 rebounds.
But nothing came easy for the Gophers (4-1). One of the issues, Borton said, was dealing with the “leftovers” of Wednesday’s emotional victory over Kansas. The Gophers also struggled early on with Navy’s motion offense, something rather foreign, she noted.
The play of Lakeville South graduate Jade Geif didn’t help Minnesota, either.
Geif, a 6-foot senior post, spent the afternoon matched up in the low block against the 6-5 Zahui B. and 6-2 senior Micaëlla Riché. But she led Navy with 17 points, including nine in the first half on 4-for-4 shooting, and grabbed 10 boards.
“She’s the preseason player of the year for the Patriot League, and you can tell why,” Borton said. “She’s smart, she’s a team player, and really does her role extremely well, and I was very impressed by what she means to that team.”
The Midshipmen (4-2) matched the Gophers basket for basket for most of the first half. But, trailing by four with 4:47 left before the break, the Gophers went on a 14-4 run—eight of those points coming from Banham—and led 31-25 going into halftime.
“I think we just focused on trying to get on a roll,” Banham said. “In the first half, we’d have good moments, but nothing was really happening. … I got some boards and tried to push it up. That’s something we have to do, especially for myself, is score in transition and get some easy points.”
In the second half the Gophers methodically attacked the low block on offense and controlled play down the stretch.
“This is a team that Big Ten teams will schedule a year ago, and then when it comes time to play them, you go, ‘Why did we schedule them?’ ” Borton said. “We were in tough situations down the stretch and we found a way to win, and that’s only going to help us when we get into the Big Ten.”