Banham paces Gophers past Northern Iowa

Minnesota opened its season with a 73-55 win over the Panthers.

Minnesota guard Rachel Banham looks to pass against Purdue on Sunday, Feb. 24, 2013, at Williams Arena.

Ichigo Takikawa, Daily File Photo

Minnesota guard Rachel Banham looks to pass against Purdue on Sunday, Feb. 24, 2013, at Williams Arena.

Jack Satzinger

In their first regular-season action of the year, the Gophers topped Northern Iowa 73-55.

Minnesota (1-0) held a huge advantage in field-goal percentage, netting almost 60 percent of its shots, while Northern Iowa (0-1) made slightly more than 30 percent of its shots from the field.

That allowed the Gophers to jump out to a 40-15 halftime advantage, but Northern Iowa outscored Minnesota 40-33 in the second half.

“We played pretty outstanding in the first half,” head coach Pam Borton said. “We played pretty well for the first eight minutes of the second half [and] then kind of let up a little bit.”

Minnesota junior guard Rachel Banham paced the Gophers with 15 points, making 54 percent of her shots. Sophomore guard Shayne Mullaney and senior forward Micaëlla Riché were even more efficient — each went 5-for-7 from the field. Mullaney finished with 14 points and three assists, while Riché had 13 points and two blocks.

Sophomore forward Jackie Johnson also scored in double digits, and Borton said she’s in the best shape of anyone on the team.

“I think Jackie was our most dependable post player tonight,” Borton said after the game. “This is the way she’s been practicing. Jackie’s extremely reliable, dependable.”

Johnson had to shoulder more of a load inside on Saturday because starting center Amanda Zahui B. was suspended one game for an “inadvertent infraction” of an NCAA rule, according to a team spokesperson.

The spokesperson said Zahui B. will be back in the lineup for the Gophers’ game against Charlotte on Wednesday at Williams Arena.

Without the 6-foot-5-inch Zahui B. in the lineup, Minnesota barely outrebounded Northern Iowa 37-35.

Banham, despite being a 5-foot-9-inch guard, led the Gophers with seven rebounds.

Johnson, senior guard Sari Noga and sophomore guard/forward Kayla Hirt all had six rebounds.

“I feel like this was kind of my fresh start, because last year, I didn’t get to play a ton,” Johnson said. “I took that as a learning experience.”