She didn’t see the shot drop through the net. After Rachel Banham let the ball fly from just behind the three-point line — with one second remaining on the clock — the Gophers guard fell to the Williams Arena floor.
Banham didn’t need to see it to know it was good, giving the Gophers a 78-76 victory over Iowa. The ear-splitting din from a crowd announced at 6,167, the largest this season, told her everything she needed to know. The senior scored 20 of her game-high 35 points in the second half, fueling the Gophers’ clawback from a 13-point deficit as they won their fourth consecutive game.
Over the past nine days, Banham has scored 127 points and carried the Gophers (18-7, 10-4 Big Ten) to three critical victories that have kept their NCAA tournament hopes afloat. Monday, she moved into second place on the Big Ten’s career scoring chart with 2,840 points and counting, with four regular-season games remaining.
The latest of those points came on what Banham called the Gophers’ “money play,” a high ball screen that got her open on the left side of the arc. Her winning shot impressed even NBA All-Star Kobe Bryant, who tipped his hat to Banham via Twitter for the third time in seven days — further sweetening a memorable week for Banham and her team.
“I always try to think we’re going to win,” Banham said. “We battled back so hard at the end, and we made some big plays. I had a really good feeling about it.
“[The past week] has been a lot of fun. Our team is playing so well. We’re really clicking, and that’s what’s fun; we’re getting wins, and that’s what’s important. I’m just happy.”
Banham started Monday’s game without her ruby slippers: the maroon shoes she has worn since her freshman year. Many of the Gophers wore pink sneakers for Monday’s breast-cancer awareness night, and they staggered through a poor first half, falling behind by as many as 12 points.
The Gophers were beaten badly on the boards, made only two three-pointers and never got to the free-throw line as Iowa took a 38-28 lead at halftime. The deficit grew to 13 in the third quarter before Banham — who switched back to her lucky maroon shoes for the second half — started to roll. She scored seven in a row for the Gophers, part of a 17-5 run that pulled them within a point.
A Banham three-pointer with seven minutes, 57 seconds left in the game put the Gophers ahead for the first time since the early minutes. Carlie Wagner, who scored 11 of her 17 points in the second half, said the Gophers were not anxious as the teams swapped the lead over the final eight minutes.
“I think we actually enjoy these situations,” Wagner said. “We definitely have confidence in each other when we’re in those final seconds and need a play. We really trust each other.”
The lead changed hands eight times in the final 1:33, before Banham’s shot gave the Gophers their eighth victory in nine games.
“It’s getting close [to tournament time], and we’re really trying to play like we want it,” she said.
“I think that’s how we’re finishing games, and I think that shows a lot.’’