Women’s Basketball: Minnesota’s Buford-Banham duo too much for NU

Steven Montero

The Golden Gophers brought their best to Welsh-Ryan on Thursday, refusing to give the Wildcats a lead after the first three minutes of the game. Leading the charge was Minnesota guard Kiara Buford and guard Rachel Banham.

Buford was on fire during the first half, scoring 17 points from all over the court. She accumulated four rebounds throughout the game as well. Buford averages 13.6 points and 3.6 rebounds per game.

Minnesota head coach Pam Borton said Buford played “extremely aggressive in the first half,” and NU was unable to stop her.

“Buford got too many open looks,” freshman guard Karly Roser said. “Our defense broke down at times and she would score a three or get a drive. Things we have to work on, but they’re fixable for sure.”

The Cats couldn’t keep up with the Golden Gophers’ pace. Junior forward Kendall Hackney scored only five points in the first half.

“Shots weren’t falling, so my teammates just kept telling me to shoot and keep playing,” Hackney said. “I tried to relax in the second half and just knock shots down that I know I can make and that my teammates are willing to give me the ball for.”

According to coach Joe McKeown, a poor offensive performance affected the Cats’ defense. Hackney said NU needs to focus on stopping its opponent’s key players and not slow down its attack.

“Every day we preach ‘don’t let your offense be your defense,'” McKeown said. “But you know players are human. When they’re not scoring they have a tendency to let down the defensive end.”

When the second half began, NU managed to shut out Buford, but Banham carried the torch for the rest of the way.

Banham had a game-high 26 points overall, 17 of which came in the second half. The freshman leads her team with 14.3 points per game and was 10-for-13 from the line on Thursday.

Roser said Minnesota liked to draw fouls by shooting “crazy shots,” but it was NU’s shaky defense and flailing arms that cost them several foul calls and ultimately 22 free-throw points.

Despite an NU comeback in the second half, it wasn’t enough to hold down Minnesota’s top performers. Buford crashed in the entire second half until the last minute of the game, making a layup to stretch the Gopher lead to 63-58, helping put the game out of reach for the Cats.

Borton said Buford “made the play she needed to make” in the second half, despite her scoring troubles. She said NU was trying to keep her out of the lane and it was natural to give the helm to Banham when Buford froze under pressure.

“Minnesota has two really good players and a really good group to complement them well,” McKeown said. “We just dug ourselves a hole and it was hard to bounce back.”

With junior forward Dannielle Diamant recovering from a sprained ankle injury, the Cats need to find power in other players. In recent games, Roser stepped up to the plate, but her 10 points on Thursday didn’t hold up against the one-two punch of Buford and Banham.

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