During a week when everyone wanted to talk about her 60-point performance against Northwestern, Rachel Banham nudged the conversation in a different direction. The Gophers guard understood the fascination that came with tying the NCAA scoring record, but she rejected the idea that she could carry her team all by herself.
When asked what the Gophers must do to keep winning in the waning weeks of the Big Ten schedule, Banham offered a two-word answer: defense and rebounding. Thursday’s rout of Nebraska bore that out, as the Gophers used one of their strongest defensive efforts of the season to win for the seventh time in eight games. Monday’s game against Iowa at Williams Arena will be no different, Banham knows, making it essential for the Gophers to prove they can defend as consistently as she can score.
“It’s not every game I’m going to score 60, or Carlie [Wagner] is going to score 20-some,” said Banham, who needs 14 points Monday against Iowa to move into second place on the Big Ten’s career scoring list. “We’ve got to really focus on defense.
“We’re not going to always shoot that great. Every team is going to go in a little bit of a lull, and you’ve got to be able to find ways to get out of that. We’ve always got to be able to say, ‘We’re fine, because we’re going to be able to get a stop.’ ”
Banham scored 32 against the Cornhuskers in the follow-up to her 60-pointer at Northwestern. She was equally pleased with the way the Gophers moved the ball and spread the scoring around. As the Huskers defense concentrated on her, she got five assists by spotting open teammates — including a spectacular play in the second quarter, when Banham drove the lane and whipped a behind-the-back pass to Karley Barnes for a layup.
Banham said she is aiming to become more efficient on offense, and she made 12 of 20 shots against Nebraska as the Gophers shot 55 percent. Her team was just as effective on defense, consistently harassing the Cornhuskers and outrebounding them 57-35. Guard Allina Starr, a solid defender who also got a career-high 11 points against Nebraska, said the Gophers have learned they can’t count on offense alone.
“We have this thing where if we get 45 stops, more than likely we’re going to win the game,” Starr said. “It’s something we’ve been committed to for the last couple of weeks. We talk about it in the locker room; every time we hit that mark, we’ve won.”
After beating Northwestern in two overtimes on the road, the Gophers crushed a hot Nebraska team and won their fifth consecutive game at Williams Arena. The first of those victories, Wagner said, demonstrated their persistence; the second strengthened their sense of what they can do collectively, at both ends of the court.
“It showed how great we are as a team and how well we work together,’’ she said. “There are so many ways we can score, so many ways we can do things. It’s a lot for teams to take in.”