Gophers outlast North Carolina State on the road

Amanda Zahui B. and Rachel Banham led the team with 21 points apiece.

Matt Greenstein

Before Wednesday’s 60-55 victory over North Carolina State, Gophers head coach Marlene Stollings said senior forward Shae Kelley’s aggressiveness had been helping spark the team.

Kelley, Minnesota’s leader in scoring, steals and rebounds, was held to only eight points in the game, and she looked out of rhythm early.

So did her team.

The Gophers began the game with double-digit turnovers within the first 10 minutes.

Stollings said the turnovers were due to the team’s lack of focus at the beginning of the game.

“Some of those were just us being loose. [It was] uncharacteristic of us,” Stollings said.

A tough NC State defense challenged the Gophers offensively.

Minnesota struggled with shooting in the first half, making 11 of 31 field goals. Stollings said the team was getting the open looks it wanted, but it just wasn’t able to convert on the chances.

NC State’s defensive pressure minimized Minnesota’s up-tempo offense, but senior guard Rachel Banham kept Minnesota close in the first half with 10 points and five rebounds.

Banham said the all-around first half she played gave the team momentum for the remainder of the game.

“I have to be able to lead the team to show them if I can do it, anyone can do it as well,” Banham said.

The Gophers brought a different strategy to the second half, as redshirt sophomore Amanda Zahui B. gave Minnesota a more solidified inside presence.

The Gophers had a distinct height advantage with the 6-foot-5-inch Zahui B., and Banham said she wanted to just keep feeding her the ball inside.

“They couldn’t guard her. She’s just too big. That’s something we need to continue to do when we play undersized teams,” Banham said.

Zahui B. not only fueled the Gophers offensively, finishing with 21 points, but she also helped Minnesota rebound the ball — an area of focus for the team recently.

The Gophers finished the game with 41 rebounds, and Zahui B. said it helped that the team became more aggressive.

“Rebounding has been something we’ve been talking about a lot. We talk a lot about not just … rebounding, but going out there and doing it,” she said.

The team’s aggressiveness was evident in its defense in the second half.

Stollings said her team’s ability to overcome adversity was huge in a close game.

“I’m very proud of the way we battled and fought. I’m most proud of our kids’ fight, poise and [ability] to come out with a victory,” Stollings said.