Near the end of a game that didn’t really matter, Rachel Banham’s teammates were on the bench screaming.
The Lynx were finishing off their regular season Saturday with a 98-86 victory over Indiana. The clock was ticking down on the best game in Banham’s five-year WNBA career. The former University of Minnesota star had scored 29 points on 10-for-14 shooting. She’d made seven of eight three-pointers and dished out 10 assists, and her teammates, led by Napheesa Collier, were yelling for more.
Go for 30, they yelled.
It is a measure of the kind of game Banham had — and the place she’s found in coach Cheryl Reeve’s rotation — that she passed instead.
“I could hear them on the bench yelling,’’ Benham said. “I was kind of thinking about it. But I was like, ‘Let’s run a play, I’ll shoot if I’m open.’ But I love that they’re excited for me.’’
Phoenix’s loss Friday had clinched the fourth seed and a first-round playoff bye for the Lynx. So Reeve rested rookie Crystal Dangerfield, giving Banham her first start since 2018.
What a night. Career highs in minutes (35:49), points (29) and assists (10).
“I was so happy for Rachel,’’ said Collier, who herself had 23 points, eight rebounds, two assists and a block. “We really wanted to get her to the 30-point mark.’’
The win put the Lynx at 14-8 in a season conducted in the bubble at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla. It was a season high in points for Minnesota, even with center Sylvia Fowles on the mend and Dangerfield resting. Odyssey Sims scored 12 with seven assists. Damiris Dantas had 15 points with eight assists and six rebounds. While ending a three-game losing streak, the Lynx buckled down on defense in the second half, holding Indiana (6-16) to 38 second-half points. The Lynx led by a point at halftime, took control in the third. Now the team is off until Thursday when the Lynx play a second-round playoff game, scheduled for 6 p.m. Fowles is expected back. The team will get a rest and a couple of practices before Thursday.
Fowles’ return and a rested Dangerfield give the Lynx a stronger rotation, one made deeper by the recent play of Banham.
“Rachel has been someone we’ve kind of given a bigger role off the bench, and she’s responded well,’’ Reeve said. “Her ability to space the floor — making shots or not — gives us the space we need. Her passing is one reason we feel we need to have her on the floor. Her passing is what I enjoy the most.’’
Banham, too. “That’s my favorite part of the game,’’ she said. “People don’t know that because I was such a scorer in college. I really do love passing the ball.’’
Five of her assists went to Collier.
“I’ve figured out where I fit,’’ Banham said. “Coaches continually told me to be aggressive. My family told me to be aggressive. I tried to stay in that mind-set lately.’’
Afterward Collier expressed pride the Lynx were able to hold the fort while waiting for Fowles to return. Without one of the league’s best players for the majority of the season, with other injuries, the Lynx were able to win 14 games.
“We really tried to go out and win as much as we could, keep this fourth seed for her,’’ Collier said, referring to Fowles.
At different times in the season six players, with Banham the latest, have scored at least 25 points in a game.
Indiana (6-16) was led by Kelsey Mitchell’s 20 points.
The Star Tribune is not traveling to Florida for NBA and WNBA coverage. This article was written using the television broadcast and video interviews before and/or after the game.