The Gophers women’s basketball team started its season by winning the Best Buy Classic at Williams Arena over the weekend.
The Gophers triumphed 87-83 in double overtime Saturday against Washington State in the semifinals. Sunday’s final was an easier affair, with the Gophers beating Villanova 75-60.
Head coach Pam Borton said her team showed a great effort in both games. She said she was pleased with the team’s defensive play and rebounding.
“I think our team is coming together pretty quickly,” Borton said. “So I think we’re headed in the right direction.”
The Gophers outrebounded their opponents 94-57 over the weekend.
Sophomore guard Rachel Banham led the Gophers on Saturday with a career-high 34 points, despite missing the first few weeks of practice while recovering from an offseason blood clot. 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.”
Minnesota led by as many as nine points in the second half, but a late Cougars run led by guards Lia Galdeira 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.
On Sunday, Riche led Minnesota with 20 points and six rebounds. The Gophers made 23 of 47 field goals en route to a comfortable win. Banham added 13 points and was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player.
Borton said other players stepped up in the game against Villanova. She said that needs to happen more often in future games if the Gophers are going to be successful.
“[Banham and Riche] can’t score 29 and 34 every night or we’re not going to be a very good team,” she said.
Borton said freshman guard Shayne Mullaney and junior guard Kionna Kellogg played exceptionally well. Mullaney had four points in 22 minutes, and Kellogg had eight points in 34 minutes while defending Wildcats top offensive threat Laura Sweeney.
“I think everybody just did their roles out there,” Borton said. “And that’s what great teams do.”
The Gophers shot 80 free throws in the tournament. Borton said getting to the free throw line is “an attacking mindset that we want to have.”
Turnovers and fouls were problems both days. Minnesota committed 29 turnovers and 22 personal fouls Saturday. It reduced both numbers Sunday, but Borton said the team needs to play smarter.
“I think we’re getting better,” Borton said. “We don’t want to do everything perfect and peaking this time of year, but these two games that we won this weekend will be good for our rÃ©sumÃ©.”
Minnesota will remain home next weekend for the Subway Classic, starting with Ohio on Saturday.