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Gophers balance tips over Northwestern

Minnesota sophomore guard Shayne Mullaney hit 4 of 7 shots from the floor and was equally efficient in passing, earning 7 assists.
University of Minnesota athletics

Opening the conference portion of the season with back-to-back losses, the Minnesota Golden Gophers found an offensive remedy Sunday afternoon at Williams Arena, defeating Northwestern 94-59.

"Our three guards played with a lot of confidence today and they controlled us offensively," said Minnesota head coach Pam Borton.

Junior guard Rachel Banham finished with a double-double, getting 28 points and 10 rebounds. She hit 12 of 13 shots from the free throw line and picked up seven assists.

Senior guard Sari Noga hit four triples en route to 17 points, and sophomore guard Shayne Mullaney recorded 13 points and seven assists.

Getting help from those two proved pivotal as Minnesota (12-5, 1-2) seeks more consistent production outside of their two-tier threat of Banham and Amanda Zahui.

"Banham found those guys and got them open and they made shots. They came at big times," said Northwestern head coach Joe McKeown.

Minnesota neutralized Northwestern's (11-5, 1-2) prolific offense, sending coverage whenever freshman prodigy Nia Coffey touched the ball. In a state of discomfort, Coffey made only 6 of 21 shots and missed several point-blank opportunities when she found a lane to pursue.

"They played tighter than usual, but nothing I can't handle," she said.

"Nia's a great player. She's always looking to go to her left. We're trying to stay tight on her left side," Banham said. "As a team, we played well."

Coffey did lead the Wildcats in scoring with 19 points, followed up by 15 from sophomore forward Maggie Lyon.

Northwestern scored the first basket of the game, marking the only instance where they led. The first of Noga's three-pointers at the 18:33 mark of the first half gave Minnesota a permanent lead. The Wildcats made a brief surge midway through the first, coming as close as 18-15, but Kayla Hirt started a 15-4 Minnesota run to ensure her brethren would tally their first Big Ten victory of the season.

"Coach told us we have to keep going strong no matter how many points we were up by. So us guards were still trying to attack and score," Banham said.

The Gophers capitalized on forcing tough shots from the Wildcats, earning a 49-35 edge in rebounds.

On the offensive end, Minnesota hit 9 of 20 three-pointers, a figure that proved overwhelming for their conference foe. In a tightly called contest, the Gophers converted 29 of their 35 free throw attempts while the Wildcats made 18 of 21.

"It gave us some room and really stretched out the score. And we need to keep doing that," Borton said.

Minnesota plays their next pair of games on the road, visiting Nebraska and Indiana before returning home to face Wisconsin a week from Thursday.

BRIEFLY

Sunday's game marked Coffey's first visit to Minnesota as a college player. She won three consecutive class AAAA state championships at Hopkins High School.

Sunday's halftime festivities paid tribute to Gophers alumni, including a 10-year reunion for members of the 2004 Final Four team.