Women’s Basketball: Banham sinks shots, Cats in Gophers’ 68-60 win

Kevin Trahan

As Northwestern rallied to come within three points with less than a minute left, Minnesota’s Rachel Banham did what she had done repeatedly all night – hit a big shot. The point guard had 26 points Thursday, none bigger than her last-minute layup and free throw to thwart the Wildcats’ comeback attempt in a 68-60 win.

“I thought she played outstanding,” Minnesota coach Pam Borton said. “She played a great game.”

The shots kept sinking for Banham in the second half – she ended with eight rebounds and led all scorers – much like they did in the first half for Kiara Buford, who had 17 points at the break.

NU (10-5, 0-2 Big Ten) had no such luck, shooting-wise, as the Cats shot just 38.6 percent from the floor and a dismal 6-23 from three in their third-straight loss. Kendall Hackney led NU with 17 points, while Morgan Jones added 16.

Some of the struggles were due to good defensive play from the Gophers (10-7, 2-1), but Hackney said her team was mainly responsible for the poor shooting performance

“Minnesota plays as a solid team,” she said. “But I think it was us not taking the best shots.”

As has been the story for the past two games, NU struggled to score in the paint. In losses to Toledo and Iowa, the problem was injuries: Senior forward Brittany Orban is out indefinitely with a torn ACL and junior forward Dannielle Diamant was hampered by a sprained ankle. Against Minnesota, the problem was foul trouble.

“(Diamant) got three fouls and had to go out of the game,” Borton said. “That slowed her down.”

Defensively, the Cats struggled as well, despite coach Joe McKeown’s focus on that area. For the third straight game, NU allowed its opponent to score at least 68 points. That only happened three times in the Cats’ first 12 games.

“We always preach, ‘Don’t let your offense be your defense,'” McKeown said.

NU point guard Karly Roser said the team struggled to shut down the Gophers’ top scoring duo – Banham and Buford.

“Coach always talks about stopping two players we need to and I think in the first half we did good job on Banham, but Buford got too many open looks,” she said. “There are things we have to work on.”

Despite the current losing streak, Roser, a freshman, has shown steady improvement over that stretch, playing all 40 minutes Thursday and finishing with 10 points.

“It’s a day-by-day process, so I’m learning new things every day and I can apply it to my game,” she said. “I thought I did better job today.”

The Cats also started freshman guard Morgan Jones, while another freshman, forward Alex Cohen, got significant playing time on Thursday. McKeown understands that having that much youth in the lineup can lead to rough patches.

“It’s a young team. We had three freshmen out there a lot of times,” he said. “We only have one senior right now and we got in foul trouble sometimes. But we can’t use those as excuses; we have to use those as teaching points.”

NU is still weathering injuries – particularly the loss of Orban – but McKeown sees that as a chance for other players to contribute.

“(Injuries give) others a chance to step up and that’s what we need,” he said. “It gives them an opportunity to do things they haven’t had to do in the past.”

The Cats couldn’t seize that opportunity Thursday, but they’ll get another chance Sunday, as they travel to Indiana to try to pick up their first Big Ten win. This time, McKeown hopes they can play a complete game.

“We just couldn’t finish it,” he said. “We have to go down and finish Sunday.”

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