Despite being responsible for helping the Minnesota Golden Gophers enter post-season play above .500 for the first time in four years, sophomore guard Rachel Banham missed out on earning the player of the year award following Monday's announcement of Big Ten Conference honorees.
Penn State's Maggie Lucas was given the player of the year distinction. Lucas was about even with Banham in most statistical categories this season, but playing for Penn State, who enters the Big Ten tournament as the top seed, gave her a larger national platform.
Lucas carried one significant advantage: leading the entire NCAA in three-point field goal percentage. Beyond the arc, the junior guard converted 47 percent of her shots. For the season, Lucas was third in the Big Ten in scoring with 20.5 points per game, including a 34-point outing in Sunday's win over Nebraska.
The achievement further cements the return of Penn State's brilliance after a steady transition phase with Coquese Washington at the helm; Penn State's last Player of the Year was Kelly Mazzante, who won in 2003 and 2004.
Minnesota was not completely absent from post-season recognition though. Banham was named to the All-Big Ten first team by the coaches. Persevering through a blood clot that threatened to derail her sophomore campaign, Banham stepped up in nearly every facet of her game, including a first place finish in the conference in scoring (21.03 points per game). In just two seasons, Banham is 14th on the all-time scoring list for Minnesota and is on pace to make a run at Lindsay Whalen's school record. The last time a Minnesota player earned a first-team nod was 2008, when Emily Fox was selected.
The Gophers also received the metaphorical last laugh in the weekly column; junior forward Micaella Riché received her second Player of the Week award this season, providing a bookend from her first accolade on Nov. 12 of last year. Riché was instrumental in Minnesota's upset of Penn State last Thursday, and flourished once more in Sunday's win over Indiana.
Riché was unable to replicate Banham's consistency for the Gophers, but she did receive an honorable mention from both coaches and media for her inside role.
Shayne Mullaney completed the Gopher accolades, getting named to the All-Freshman team.
Minnesota now turns its focus to the Big Ten tournament, with a 6:00 p.m. match against Ohio State for the right to play Penn State in the quarterfinal round. The Buckeyes fell off the conference perch this season, but the tournament could be the last audition for Minnesota native Tayler Hill before this spring's WNBA Draft. Hill was an All-Big Ten First Team and All-Defensive Team selection by the coaches, finishing second in the conference in scoring and sixth in steals.