Sophomore guard Rachel Banham scored 15 points for Minnesota (18-12, 7-9), just inching by Ohio State's Tayler Hill to claim the Big Ten Conference scoring title for the regular season. Banham's average for the year was 21.03 points per game, edging Hill's 20.92 scoring average.
Coincidentally, those two teams will play each other in the first round of the Big Ten tournament on Thursday, after Ohio State's victory over Michigan locked them in the ninth slot (Minnesota finished eighth, holding the tiebreaker by head-to-head record).
The win also gave Minnesota its best conference record in four years despite missing the .500 mark, but it momentarily dispelled the cloud of suspicion that developed following last week's late disclosure of a contract extension for head coach Pam Borton, enacted by departing athletic director Joel Maturi. Adding to the suspicion is the alleged uncertainty regarding communication of the transaction to current athletic director Norwood Teague and local media covering the team.
More importantly, the Gophers stand a legitimate chance of sneaking in the NCAA tournament, although they would need to boost their resumé through the conference tournament. Minnesota swept Ohio State in the regular season for the first time in school history, and another win would set up a quarterfinal duel with Penn State on Friday, who split their season series with Minnesota.
Junior forward Micaella Riché helped set the plot in Minnesota's favor, getting 17 points and a career-high 15 rebounds as she flourished against Indiana's (11-18, 2-14) fragile inside game. Riché was affected by consistency issues throughout the year, but she quietly finished the regular season with the highest field goal percentage in the Big Ten, earning a mark of 52.9 percent.
The game was relatively tight, but controlled by Minnesota from the start. The Hoosiers led just twice, with their last advantage coming at the 15:22 mark of the first half.
The Gophers led by as much as 11, but suffered a late scare when Linda Rubene scored a layup with 28 seconds in regulation, cutting the lead to 54-51.
Five seconds later, Banham dished her sixth and final assist of the game to Riché, who completed a three-point play to put the game out of reach.
Overall, Minnesota's biggest advantage came in the paint, out-scoring Indiana 36-22.
Sasha Chaplin led Indiana with 17 points and nine rebounds, but the team was unable to find any vigor this year despite a coaching change.