When the Gophers hosted Oakland (Mich.) on Sunday afternoon, it had been almost a year to the day since Amanda Zahui B. came to the Twin Cities from her native Sweden.
And Minnesota’s 6-5 redshirt freshman made sure to show everyone at Williams Arena just how far she’s come in the past 12 months.
Zahui B. shot 11-for-15 from the field for 25 points and set a career high with 16 rebounds. She also had four blocks and three steals in a 79-43 Gophers victory in their last tuneup before starting Big Ten play next weekend.
“Coach keeps repeating that I have to establish myself as a scorer, and I tried to take advantage of that today,” she said.
She was the focal point of the offense early, scoring 17 points before halftime against an undersized Oakland squad that struggled to match the Gophers physically.
“I think when you have a player like Amanda, you should be getting the ball inside. If not, then I need my head examined,” coach Pam Borton said, noting that her team’s passing and efficiency on offense (the Gophers had 22 assists) had a lot to do with her star center’s success.
All 10 Gophers scored at least two points in the blowout. Senior Micaëlla Riché had 12 points, and sophomore Kayla Hirt had eight.
As a team, Minnesota (11-3) shot 56.1 percent from the field, 41.7 percent from three-point distance, and that all came on a day when star guard Rachel Banham had an uncharacteristically poor shooting game, going 3-for-12 from the field. She finished with eight points, ending a 28-game streak of scoring in double digits.
But her ability to facilitate on offense, including an array of difficult entry passes down low to the dominating Zahui B., triggered the Gophers attack, Borton said.
“I think Rachel did so many unbelievable things offensively,” Borton said. “Whenever you have one of the nation’s best point guards and one of the nation’s best centers, it can be pretty easy.”
The Gophers closed the first half on a 23-5 run, and led by 19 at the break.
Oakland didn’t get any closer in the second half, and the Gophers took the opportunity to empty their bench over the final 20 minutes. Eight Gophers played at least 18 minutes.
It was a nice reprieve for Minnesota — a lopsided victory, sandwiched between the difficult competition of last weekend’s Subway Classic and the start of conference play Saturday against Michigan State.
“It’s about to get a lot more real,” Borton said. “The games are going to be more physical and tougher and closer. … I think we’re tough — we’re mentally tough — and we have two of the best players in the Big Ten on our team. We’re ready to go.”