Banham leads furious second-half rally

The redshirt senior scored 25 points in the second half to power a victory.

Rachel Banham handles the ball at Williams Arena on Tuesday evening, where Minnesota defeated Illinois 82-77.

Sam Harper

Rachel Banham handles the ball at Williams Arena on Tuesday evening, where Minnesota defeated Illinois 82-77.

Kaitlin Merkel

Led by 25 second-half points from redshirt senior guard Rachel Banham, the Gophers women’s basketball team completed a 16-point comeback after halftime on Tuesday night to defeat Illinois 82-77 at Williams Arena.
Despite scoring just two points in the first half, Banham shot 8-19 on field goals on the night and finished with six 3-pointers.
“Putting up 25 points in a half is amazing,” Minnesota head coach Marlene Stollings said. “We just kept going back to her, pretty much the same play. She was in the zone; I could see it in her eyes.”
Banham said she didn’t get discouraged after scoring just two points in the first half.
“[At halftime] I just kept telling myself, ‘I have to step up and do what I do,’” Banham said. “I knew it was going to open up. I just had to let it come to me.”
The Gophers extended their winning streak to four with the victory.
Minnesota (14-6, 6-3 Big Ten) trailed 45-29 at the half after a poor second quarter, when the team was outscored 25-11 by the Illini. Illinois is currently last in the Big Ten conference standings.
The Gophers shot 33.33 percent from the floor in the first half and 25 percent from 3-point range. Minnesota was also outrebounded 29-14 before halftime.
“It was obviously a flat first half for us,” Stollings said. “It wasn’t our best energy showing, and we did not rebound the ball well. And that really got us in a hole. I think it kind of carried over to the offensive end as well.”
The Gophers started the third quarter on an 11-2 run and started to climb back in the game.
Sophomore guard Carlie Wagner hit two 3-pointers near the end of the quarter, and Minnesota only trailed by one entering the fourth. 
The Illini pulled ahead again halfway through the final quarter but didn’t score in the final three minutes of the game.
Banham hit her sixth 3-pointer of the half with a minute left to give the Gophers a three-point lead.
The team defended well afterwards, and two free throws by senior guard Shayne Mullaney clinched the game for Minnesota.
“I felt like we were in control if we just did the things that we needed to do,” junior guard Joanna Hedstrom said. “We don’t like to put [Banham] in that position, and we don’t put pressure or expect her to do that, but it kind of just happens sometimes.”
Banham finished with 27 total points for the Gophers, while Wagner added 16.
Mullaney, Hedstrom and sophomore center Jessie Edwards all had 11 points on the night. 
It was the seventh Big Ten game this season where Mullaney scored in the double digits and the fourth game in a row.
The Gophers were outrebounded 44-40 by the Illini, but sophomore guard Allina Starr led the team with seven rebounds.
Banham said she wants to see the team improve its starts in games to avoid big deficits like the ones they faced on Tuesday night.
“I’ve been starting off really soft, not being aggressive enough in the first halves,” Banham said. “I think us seniors need to help step up a little more and bring that energy.”