Six crisp passes off the hands of four different Gophers left a wide-open Shayne Mullaney with the ball at the top of the key.
Bang — Minnesota 3, Loyola 0.
Just 24 seconds into the game Tuesday, two things were clear: The Gopher offense had found a new rhythm, and visiting Loyola University Chicago was in for a long night at Williams Arena.
Seven of the first eight Minnesota field goals came off assists, and the oft-slow-starting Gophers jumped out to a 32-8 lead and cruised to an 80-36 win.
“I was really proud of the team for how we started the game today,” Gophers coach Pam Borton said.
“I thought we started off really attacking their 2-3 zone and got off to a great start, unlike the last couple games.”
Junior Rachel Banham led the way with 17 points and six assists, and freshman Stabresa McDaniel had a career-high 14 points.
Four Gophers scored in double figures, and all 10 players on Minnesota’s roster made at least one field goal.
Although there seemed to be a newfound focus on sharing among themselves, the Gophers (5-1) weren’t exactly gracious hosts two days before Thanksgiving. They buried six of their first nine three-point attempts, and played suffocating defense on an overwhelmed Ramblers team (2-4) that has lost 30 games in a row against Big Ten teams.
It didn’t help that Loyola’s first-year head coach, WNBA legend Sheryl Swoopes, was without her two leading scorers for the majority of the game. Sophomore Taylor Johnson, who averages 18.4 points per game, was a pregame scratch, and freshman Tiana Karopulos suffered a knee injury three minutes into the game.
But the way the Gophers moved the ball, it might not have made a difference even if Swoopes herself suited up.
Two days after grinding out a physical, slow-paced victory against Navy, Minnesota came out firing Tuesday. Banham hit three three-pointers in the opening minutes, and the Gophers swarmed Loyola’s ballhandlers.
Amanda Zahui B., Minnesota’s towering 6-5 redshirt freshman, didn’t make things any easier, either. She had five points, 10 rebounds and six blocks — one of which sent a Loyola guard hard to the floor and the Gophers the other way on a fast-break.
Sophomore Kayla Hirt had 14 points, and Mullaney 10.
The Gophers made 55.7 percent of their shots and were 8-for-17 from behind the arc.
“I thought they made good adjustments throughout the game, as much as they could, but I think we were just a little bigger than they were,” Borton said.