While many of her college peers partied as usual on Saturday night, Rachel Banham planned a more sedate evening. The Gophers point guard wanted nothing more than to go to bed early.
She earned a good rest after her team opened its season with an 87-83 victory over Washington State in double overtime. Banham still is working her way back to full fitness after recovering from a blood clot in her lung. But with the Cougars pushing her team to the brink, the sophomore staved off exhaustion to score 34 points -- including 26 in the second half and overtimes -- to lift the Gophers in the opening game of the Best Buy Classic at Williams Arena.
Coach Pam Borton lauded her team for its perseverance in coming back from a six-point deficit early in the first overtime. But she couldn't overlook the blemishes on the score sheet, including 29 turnovers, a nine-point lead that evaporated in the second half and some inopportune fouls.
The Cougars sent the game to overtime on Sage Romberg's three-pointer with seven seconds remaining. Lia Galdeira scored the first six points of the first extra period -- with two of her baskets coming off Gophers turnovers -- to give them a 72-66 lead. Banham scored seven points in the final 1 minute, 31 seconds to tie the score at 75, and she passed to Micaella Riche for a layup with 1:39 left in the second overtime to put the Gophers ahead for good.
Riche excelled as well, finishing with 29 points and 14 rebounds and carrying her team with seven points in the second overtime.
"During the main part of the game, I felt pretty good," Banham said. "But toward the overtimes, my legs were starting to go out. I just had to push myself. In my head, I was thinking, 'I want to win this. Then I can sleep the rest of the day.'"
Banham played 46 minutes, including all 10 in the two overtimes. She started slowly, just as her team did.
The Gophers made only four of their first 18 shots, and an aggressive Cougars defense repeatedly disrupted their passing. Washington State forced 14 Gophers turnovers in the first half. Banham got only three shots in the first 18:44 of the game, and she didn't score until 9:26 remained in the first half.
The Cougars also shot poorly, preventing them from gaining any clear advantage as the lead changed hands six times in the first half. Banham sparked a 9-2 run at the end of the half with a pair of three-pointers, followed by a Mikayla Bailey jump shot at the buzzer that gave the Gophers a 26-19 lead. They extended that to nine points midway through the second half.
That 45-36 margin slipped away during a 10-2 Cougars run. The Gophers led 63-58 with 33 seconds left, but Romberg hit a pair of three-pointers --including the one that tied the game -- to push it to overtime.
Banham scored the Gophers' final seven points in the first overtime, tying the score with two free throws with 28 seconds left. She finished the game 13-for-13 from the line as the Gophers made 36 of 49 free throws, while the Cougars made 14 of 18.
Villanova 71, South Dakota State 47: Senior forward Laura Sweeney scored 24 points, leading the Wildcats to victory over South Dakota State in Saturday's second game of the Best Buy Classic. The Wildcats will play the Gophers on Sunday at 1 p.m. for the tournament championship.
Sweeney made 10 of 13 shots for a Wildcats team that was solid on both ends of the floor. Villanova (1-0) led by as many as 26 points.
South Dakota State (0-1) was undone by poor shooting, making only 35 percent of its field-goal attempts and shooting only 50 percent from the free-throw line. Sophomore forward Megan Waytashek of Lino Lakes scored 10 points for the Jackrabbits, who will play Washington State in Sunday's third-place game.
at Williams Arena
South Dakota State
vs. Washington State
11 a.m. • No TV
Gophers vs. Villanova
1 p.m. • No TV • 1500-AM