First, the good: Junior Shayne Mullaney hit a jumper in the lane with 3.6 seconds remaining to give the Gophers a 46-44 win Sunday at Williams Arena, knocking off a physical North Dakota team to remain unbeaten at The Barn.
Amanda Zahui B. scored a career-high 25 points, including 13 during a 21-2 run for the Gophers midway through the second half. She also had 12 rebounds and four blocks.
And, now, the bad: Playing without junior guard Rachel Banham, Minnesota struggled offensively. The Gophers (9-2) shot a season-worst 32 percent from the field and had as many turnovers (16) as they did made field goals.
They trailed 31-18 after an abysmal first half, and if not for some impressive play from Zahui B. (10 points, seven rebounds and four blocks), it could’ve been much, much worse.
“Obviously, we found out what our team looks like without Rachel,” head coach Pam Borton said, referring to Minnesota’s injured star. “[She’s] our floor leader. But I have to give it to the players for finding a way to win.”
Banham injured her right knee late in the first half of Thursday’s win over Miami (Fla.). She was taken to the locker room but came out after halftime, showing no ill effects from the injury and leading the team with 27 points.
With the Gophers awaiting a 12-day layoff before their next game Dec. 20 against UCLA, Banham was kept out Sunday as a precaution. And her injury turned out to be a rather large handicap for the Gophers.
Fortunately, they still had Zahui B., the Gophers’ 6-5 budding star in the low post.
Freshman Joanna Hedstrom, who made her first career start filling in for Banham, drained a three-point shot to cut the North Dakota lead to 35-22 early in the second. Then Zahui B. went off.
Starting with a quick turnaround jumper in the lane, she scored the Gophers’ next nine points — and 13 of their next 18 — to help them retake the lead 40-37 with 8:26 to play.
Both teams stalled out on offense the rest of the way, setting the stage for Mullaney’s dramatic winner.
After a timeout with 20.6 seconds left, Borton drew up a play for her sophomore guard. And Mullaney, who was just 3-for-12 shooting to that point, didn’t hesitate, driving into the lane, fading to her left and sinking a fall-away jumper.
Senior Madi Buck led North Dakota (3-3) with 17 points.