Riché, Banham put Gophers back on track in blowout win

Minnesota’s top two players helped it beat Denver 74-51 at home.

by Samuel Gordon

Foul trouble turned Micaëlla Riché into a spectator for most of the Gophers’ past two games — losses to Virginia and Kansas.

On Wednesday, the junior center was at the heart of their 74-51 victory over Denver at Williams Arena.

Riché overcame two early fouls, dominated in the low post and scored 19 points on 8-for-11 shooting.

“The last two games have been rough. I just found myself overthinking a lot,” Riché said. “I just came out not worrying too much.”

Minnesota led wire to wire and quickly turned a close game into a blowout. Star guard Rachel Banham was also on top of her game. She scored 21 points, dished out seven assists and grabbed seven rebounds in one of her most complete performances of the season.

The Gophers owned the paint with a 42-14 advantage, thanks in large part to Riché.

“We did a great job just getting the ball in the paint and being patient,” Minnesota head coach Pam Borton said. “We shot a very high percentage … because we were getting high-percentage shots.”

The Gophers raced out to a 14-7 lead. Denver clawed back and cut it to 16-13, but that’s the closest it came.

Banham scored seven of Minnesota’s next nine points — a three-pointer and a pair of jumpers. The rest of the half was practically a layup drill for the Gophers, who scored every point on either a layup or free throw.

Minnesota led 41-27 at halftime behind 15 points from Banham.

“I got a lot of jump shots going,” she said. “I was just feeling good.”

The second half looked a lot like the first.

The Gophers overpowered the Pioneers post defenders and continued to make a living down low.

Minnesota stretched its lead to 30 points and coasted for much of the second half.

The Gophers turned over the ball a season-low 10 times. Borton said the team’s ball security was critical.

“That was something that was our Achilles’ heel last year,” she said of Minnesota’s turnovers. “That’s giving games away on our own.”

Freshman guard Mikayla Bailey, one of the Gophers’ top defenders on the perimeter and in transition, sat out for the third straight game with mononucleosis.

Shayne Mullaney, another freshman, replaced her in the starting lineup and relieved Banham of some ball-handling duties. Borton commended Mullaney’s play after the game.

“Shayne’s coming in and giving [Rachel] a little bit of a break in handling the basketball,” Borton said. “When Mikayla comes back, we’ll be even deeper.”

Mullaney finished with four points in 33 minutes.

Borton said Tuesday that Bailey will be out at least another week, which means she’ll miss the Gophers’ next two home contests.

Minnesota hosts Missouri-Kansas City on Friday and Robert Morris on Sunday as part of its season-long five-game homestand.