Thursday night was the most monumental moment for the Minnesota Golden Gophers in recent memory.
On the floor at Williams Arena, sophomore guard Rachel Banham led a successful charge against the Michigan Wolverines, allowing Minnesota to snap a four-game losing skid with an 82-67 victory.
Among the spectators in attendance was Carlie Wagner, the prep standout from New Richland H-E-G. Following the victory, she confirmed her verbal commitment to Minnesota (National Letters of Intent are not signed until senior year. Wagner is a junior), giving head coach Pam Borton major leverage for those who have questioned her recruiting abilities in the last several years.
Conversation focused solely on the Big Ten Conference match-up, where marksmanship allowed the Gophers (14-8, 3-5) to pull away, particularly in the second half. Minnesota hit 59 percent of their field goals, including a 9-of-17 mark from three-point range. For an added touch, the Gophers gave up only two points off four turnovers. The Wolverines (16-5, 5-3) gave up 15 points off 12 turnovers.
"Against (Michigan's) zone: reversing the ball, taking the right shots for the right people. We moved the ball extremely well, penetrated gaps in the zone," Borton said.
Banham scored a game-high 32 points, marking her fourth game this season with 30 points or more and earning back-to-back 30-point games for the first time in her career. Her recent surge has catapulted her to first place in the Big Ten in scoring.
Banham's offensive rage began with making her first seven shots, but her biggest highlight came on an assist. In transition, she dished a no-look pass to nearby Kayla Hirt, allowing the wing to score an easy layup.
"I attack better on transition and got other people shots and got myself shots," she said.
Junior forward Micaella Riche added 15 point for the Gophers, and freshman guard Shayne Mullaney piled up eight points and eight assists.
Senior guard Kate Thompson led the Wolverines with 18 points, but she was contained in the game's second half. Making four of five shots in the first half for 12 points, she mustered only two of six attempts in the second. Senior forward Rachel Sheffer had 17 points and nine rebounds.
The contest was relatively close through the first 25 minutes before Minnesota ballooned their lead to insurmountable territory, when a Sari Noga three-pointer started a 15-4 run, turning a 50-49 lead to a 65-53 advantage.
"Reversing the ball was key for us tonight. I was able to find Kayla and Rachel on some open shots," Noga said.
Minnesota goes back on the road for their next game, which is Sunday afternoon at Nebraska.