Women’s basketball tips off against St. Cloud State

Freshman Rachel Banham will start at point guard for the Gophers.

University of Minnesota Senior Kiara Buford guards Michigan State Senior Brittney Thomas Saturday, Jan. 23, 2010 at Williams Arena in Dinkytown.

Joe Michaud-Scorza

University of Minnesota Senior Kiara Buford guards Michigan State Senior Brittney Thomas Saturday, Jan. 23, 2010 at Williams Arena in Dinkytown.

Adam Richard

The Gophers womenâÄôs basketball team opens its season at 7 p.m. tonight at Williams Arena with an exhibition game against St. Cloud State.
Minnesota lost six of its last seven games last year and finished 4-12 in the Big Ten.
Head coach Pam Borton said she believes this yearâÄôs squad has the talent and experience to improve upon its disappointing finish to 2010-11.
âÄúIâÄôm very excited about this team,âÄù Borton said. âÄúWe are a lot more athletic, we are quicker and we are more versatile.âÄù
The team will be put to the test early this season.
Before opening Big Ten play, the Gophers play a tough non-conference schedule that includes No. 1 Baylor, an Elite 8 team last year.
âÄúIf you want to be the best, you have to play the best, and I think we are getting tested right from the beginning,âÄù Borton said.
Minnesota will rely on seniors Kiara Buford, Jackie Voigt and Brianna Mastey for a stable presence through the tough schedule. The team returns 11 players from a year ago.
Buford was a top-five scorer in the Big Ten last year despite playing point guard. She will move to her more natural position of shooting guard as freshman Rachel Banham takes over point guard duties.
A top-five national recruit at point guard and 2011 Minnesota Ms. Basketball winner, Banham may be the key to the GophersâÄô success this season. She has drawn comparisons to former Gopher standout and current Minnesota Lynx champion Lindsay Whalen.
Borton said that Banham embraces those comparisons.
âÄúI think when she hears sheâÄôs being compared to Whalen, sheâÄôs not a kid that says, âÄòOh my gosh, this is pressure,âÄô but she looks at it as an honor,âÄù Borton said.
Freshman Kayla Hirt was another highly touted recruit coming to Minnesota, but she tore her ACL in a preseason practice and will miss the entire season.