Gophers open regular season with WBI Tipoff

Kiara Buford and Rachel Banham lead Minnesota to Daytona Beach.

Adam Richard

The Gophers womenâÄôs basketball team opens its regular season this weekend in Florida with the WomenâÄôs Basketball Invitational Tipoff. Minnesota will play Arkansas, Florida State and South Florida over the weekend.

âÄúIâÄôm excited about taking this team on the road,âÄù head coach Pam Borton said. âÄúWeâÄôve got three exciting and difficult games. I feel like itâÄôs the pre-NCAA tournament this weekend.âÄù

The Gophers beat St. Cloud State and Bemidji State handily in their two exhibition games, but now will face a higher level of competition.

Borton said that the teamâÄôs consistent intensity has been its greatest strength in both practice and the exhibition games.

Minnesota will rely on a senior-freshman combination in its backcourt this year. Kiara Buford and Rachel Banham have run the floor in transition effectively to date.

âÄúWeâÄôre a faster team,âÄù Borton said. âÄúWeâÄôre running a lot more. WeâÄôre a lot more fun to watch, and the players are enjoying playing in that type of style.âÄù

Banham said the speed is different than high school, where she dominated, but that she is working on both her speed and strength.

Buford has filled up the stat sheet and been a vocal leader on the court this season. She was forced to ball-handling duties last year but is now playing more shooting guard.

âÄúI donâÄôt think my role change has been difficult. ItâÄôs something that has evolved naturally,âÄù Buford said. âÄúHaving Rachel at the point makes my life easier on the court.âÄù

The Gophers were able to dominate the inside against watered-down exhibition competition, but this is an area in which they will be tested in the regular season.

Jackie Voigt, Micaëlla Riche and Katie Loberg will need to step up in rebounding and on defense for Minnesota to improve this year.

FSU is ranked 13th in the nation and will be a tough test for the Gophers. Last year, the Seminoles were one of the best teams in the nation in scoring offense, field-goal percentage and rebounding margin.

This weekend will be the first regular season step in the budding career of Rachel Banham, as well as an opportunity for the Gophers to rise back to the upper echelon of the Big Ten.

âÄúWe want to go down and come back 3-0,âÄù Borton said. âÄúWe have a lot to prove as far as the Big Ten and our program.âÄù