GRAND FORKS, N.D. - The Gophers women’s basketball season took a scary turn Wednesday night on the team’s first-ever visit to North Dakota’s campus.
Senior point guard Rachel Banham suffered a potentially serious knee injury midway through the first half of the Gophers’ 68-55 victory over UND at the Betty Engelstad Sioux Center in a nonconference women’s basketball game.
Banham, a senior from Lakeville who was named the Big Ten preseason player of the year in the coaches’ and media’s polls, stole a pass on the perimeter and was on a solo fast break.
But a UND player closed on Banham as she put up a layup. She appeared to fall awkwardly to the court and immediately clutched her right knee.
She was attended to by medical staff, and then helped off the court by two Gophers staff members. Banham put no weight on her right leg and appeared to be in tears as she shook her head while being taken to the locker room.
Banham returned to the Gophers bench late in the first half with her right knee wrapped in ice but did not play again.
A Gophers spokesperson confirmed it was a knee injury, adding, “But we won’t know anything else until she is evaluated in Minneapolis.”
Banham came into the game averaging 20 points, 5.0 assists and 4.7 rebounds. She had a season-high 35 points on Sunday in an overtime win over Butler
Earlier Wednesday, she was named to the Naismith Trophy women’s top-50 watch list by the Atlanta Tipoff Club. The award is given to the nation’s top female college player.
The victory gives the Gophers (9-1) a four-game winning streak. UND (7-2) saw its win streak end at seven.
“Losing our best player with the injury there in the first half, I thought we handled quite a bit of adversity against a very solid team,” first-year Gophers coach Marlene Stollings said. “We’re just pleased to come out with the victory.”
Forward Shae Kelley led the Gophers with a career-high 24 points, 18 in the second half. Center Amanda Zahui B. had 15 points and 16 rebounds and guard Carlie Wagner added 14 points.
“[Kelley] really stepped up,” Stollings said. “We told her to collect her feet [and] finish at the basket. We didn’t feel they had someone that athletically and speedwise could really cut her off.”
Minnesota led only 27-25 at halftime on Kayla Hirt’s two free throws with 22 seconds.
“The biggest thing we did [at halftime] is to try and tell them is to refocus and stay calm,” Stollings said. “We’re not going to know anything ’til later [about Banham] anyway. The biggest thing they could do is just stay in the moment and focus on the game at hand.”
Minnesota shot 29.4 percent in the first half, 48.6 percent in the second.
The Gophers took an 8-2 lead in the opening minutes on back-to-back three-pointers by Banham, as it turned out, her only points of the game.
But North Dakota got back within 10-9 and later 14-12 on threes from Leah Szabla and Siri Burck. Another Burck three gave UND its first lead at 16-14 just more than nine minutes into the game.
Shortly after that Banham, the second-leading scorer in Gophers history, was hurt.
Szabla, a former player for Providence Academy in Plymouth, led UND with 14 points. North Dakota also lost a key player, 6-5 senior center Emily Evers, to an injury a few minutes after Banham was hurt. Evers was averaging a team-high 10.8 rebounds.
Last season UND lost to the Gophers 46-44 on Dec. 8 at Williams Arena when Banham didn’t play because of a right knee injury suffered three days earlier against Miami (Fla.). She missed only one game because of it.