Gophers guard Rachel Banham has barely practiced and is still working her way into game shape.
Wait until she’s in the swing of things.
Banham scored 22 points and paced Minnesota to an easy 76-49 exhibition victory over Concordia-St. Paul on Wednesday at Williams Arena. The Gophers’ star point guard shot 8-for-14 from the floor and added five steals and five rebounds.
Last week, Minnesota head coach Pam Borton said the exhibition schedule would be especially important for Banham, who was held out of the first few weeks of practice as she awaited medical clearance from a blood clot she had this summer.
After the game, Banham said she’s still not back to full speed.
“That’s going to come with practice and a few more games,” she said.
At Gophers basketball media day in mid-October, Borton spoke highly of true freshman guard Mikayla Bailey, and on Wednesday night, it was easy to see why.
Bailey scored 11 first-half points, played tenacious on-ball defense on the perimeter and helped the Gophers force 29 turnovers
“Our team is really good defensively,” Bailey said.
“They get me going and the energy from the whole team — they all bring it.”
Redshirt freshman forward Kayla Hirt also made her collegiate debut Wednesday after missing the entire 2011-12 season with a torn ACL.
She finished with 10 points and five rebounds.
“It was good for her to get as much time and as many minutes as she could,” Borton said. “She has still a lot of kinks to work out, and that’s completely understandable. She has a lot of work to do, but I think she did a good job tonight.”
Minnesota dominated early in the game. The Gophers brought the energy and the ruckus, and at times, Concordia had trouble getting the ball across halfcourt.
The Gophers led 44-24 at halftime and were on cruise control for much of the second half.
Minnesota wasn’t perfect, though. It committed 19 turnovers, several coming on poor entry passes to post players, and the Golden Bears outrebounded Minnesota for much of the game.
The Gophers controlled the glass at the end of the second half and won the rebounding battle 38-35.
Starting center Micaëlla Riché picked up three quick fouls in the first half and played just 19 minutes.
Borton said Riché is a big-time rebounder whose presence is necessary for Minnesota to be at its best.
Forward Kionna Kellogg scored 14 points and added eight rebounds.
Senior forward Katie Loberg was inactive. Borton said Loberg had her knee scoped on Friday and will be out a couple of weeks.
Minnesota will conclude its exhibition season Sunday when it hosts Minnesota State.