The Gophers women’s basketball team started its season with an 87-83 double-overtime victory over Washington State on Saturday at Williams Arena.
With the win, Minnesota advances to the championship game of the Best Buy Classic.
Head coach Pam Borton said she was pleased with how her team showed character and perseverance and found a way to win.
“This is a huge win against a quality opponent,” she said. “We’re not going to be playing perfect games this time of year. It’s just trying to find a way to win games right now as we continue to get better.”
Sophomore guard Rachel Banham led the Gophers with a career-high 34 points despite missing the first few weeks of practice. She was a perfect 13-for-13 from the free throw line.
“During the main part of the game, I felt pretty good," Banham said. "It was just toward the overtimes my legs were starting to go out a little bit."
Micaella Riche contributed 29 points and 14 rebounds. Seven of her points came in the deciding second overtime.
“My teammates did a great job getting me the ball,” Riche said. “I trust my teammates on that they’re going to get me the ball … so working hard is definitely worth it.”
The score was close for most of the first half until Minnesota stretched its lead to seven in the final minute. Banham made two three-pointers to put the Gophers up five, and freshman guard Mikayla Bailey made a floater in the lane as time expired to give Minnesota a 26-19 advantage.
Minnesota led by as much as nine in the second half, but a late Cougars run led by guards Lia Galdeir and Sage Romberg forced the game into overtime.
Borton said Washington State carried momentum into the first overtime period, which it started with a 6-0 run. Minnesota answered with its own 7-0 run, and after five minutes the score was tied at 75-75. Banham scored the Gophers' last seven points in the first overtime.
The Gophers built a four-point lead in the second overtime and never looked back, closing the game out at the free throw line.
Minnesota committed 29 turnovers and 22 personal fouls. Borton said both numbers need to come down, which will happen with smarter play.
“[Our] fouling kept them in the game,” she said. “The game would have been over a long time ago.”
Banham said the team needs depth.
“We just need more girls," Banham said. "We’re going to get it, but that’s what we need to work on throughout the year.”
Minnesota will play Villanova in the championship game Sunday. The Wildcats beat South Dakota State 71-47 in the second semifinal game Saturday.