With her team mired in a three-game losing streak and trailing to Illinois by 11 at halftime, Minnesota star guard Rachel Banham used the second half to remind people just how special she is.
And it still wasn’t enough.
Banham exploded for 37 points — 27 in the second half — and scored her 1,000th career point, but no other Minnesota player scored more than 11, and the Illini held on for a 91-86 victory.
The Gophers have lost four straight games and haven’t won a Big Ten game since Jan. 10.
Trailing by 14 midway through the second half, Banham scored 15 of her team’s next 19 points to pull the Gophers ahead by one.
“I was just being more aggressive in the second half,” Banham said. “I knew I needed to start taking over.”
Illinois, however, resisted the takeover, made key plays and closed the game on a 10-4 run.
“They did what they needed to do to finish,” Gophers head coach Pam Borton said. “We put a lot of pressure on them. … They executed down the stretch.”
Minnesota had multiple chances to tie the game or take the lead, but untimely fouls and turnovers in the final minutes prevented a final comeback.
“We didn’t play real smart basketball in the last three minutes,” Borton said. “We didn’t do the little things tonight.”
Illini forward-center Karisma Penn demanded extra attention all game. She had 21 points and 12 rebounds.
“We’ve had to rely on [Penn], and she’s had to do more than most kids should,” Illinois head coach Matt Bollant said.
Penn had plenty of help, as three other Illini players scored 16 or more points.
“Offense wasn’t our issue. It was our defense,” Borton said.
Both teams started out slowly, but Illinois pushed the pace and turned the game into a track meet.
Neither team took a sizable lead until about midway through the first half, when the Illini parlayed a 12-0 run into a 28-17 lead.
“We have to get off to better starts at the beginning of games,” Borton said.
Instead of withering away like they have several times this season, the Gophers responded with their own 12-4 run and trimmed the lead to three.
But Illinois, the worst statistical three-point shooting team in the conference, made several three pointers at the end of the half and seized a 52-41 halftime lead.
The Illini controlled the first part of the second half until Banham took over.
Banham is the 21st player in Gophers history to score 1,000 points. She’s only a sophomore, and barring a major injury, she’ll break Lindsay Whalen’s record for most points through two years (1,092).
“It’d have been better if we won,” Banham said.
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