Guards pace Gophers to second exhibition win

Rachel Banham and Kiara Buford set the tone for Minnesota.

Charlie Armitz

If the 2011-12 Gophers womenâÄôs basketball season is to be the Rachel Banham and Kiara Buford show, SundayâÄôs 92-50 exhibition win over Bemidji State was a sneak preview.

Buford, a senior, led the Gophers with 21 points and five steals and added four rebounds and three assists.

Banham, a freshman, had 17 points, six rebounds, four assists and three steals.

While the Gophers shot just 1-for-11 from 3-point range, they dominated the undersized Beavers inside at every position. Minnesota out-rebounded Bemidji State 54-29 and held a 52-12 edge in points in the paint.

Both Banham and Buford scored most of their points from close range and from the free-throw line. They also created numerous inside opportunities for their teammates with their dribble penetration.

âÄúI think everybody else is just feeding off of them,âÄù head coach Pam Borton said. âÄúThis is a guardâÄôs game, and I think Rachel and Kiara did a great job.âÄù

The two guards combined to commit just three turnovers and two personal fouls.

âÄúIt makes me more confident, and I think we all feel more confident when weâÄôre getting more assists compared to turnovers,âÄù Banham said. âÄúBut going into the Big Ten [schedule] thereâÄôs going to be very tough defenders and we just have to keep it going.âÄù

Jackie Voigt and Leah Cotton each had 12 points off the bench, and center Katie Loberg added 10 points and seven rebounds for Minnesota.

CottonâÄôs aggressive defense was a boon just as it was in WednesdayâÄôs 86-51 exhibition win over St. Cloud State, even though the junior committed four fouls Sunday.

âÄúLeah brings us so much off the bench,âÄù Borton said. âÄúWe get better when Leah comes in to the game. I like the combination of Kiara and Rachel and Leah out there a lot. WeâÄôre more athletic, weâÄôre quicker, weâÄôre a better defensive team on the perimeter.âÄù

Cotton said she was able to play aggressively because of her fellow guards.

âÄúI feel like our chemistry is getting much better from when we started practice in the summer,âÄù Cotton said. âÄúWe like to get up and down the floor a lot more. I feel like I can take more chances with [Banham and Buford] there.âÄù

Borton said she was pleased with her teamâÄôs intensity throughout the game.

Next weekend, the Gophers head to Florida for the WomenâÄôs Basketball Invitational Tip-Off, where they will play Arkansas, Florida State and South Florida âÄî three teams Borton said will challenge the Gophers a lot more.

âÄúItâÄôll be absolutely night and day,âÄù Borton said. âÄúBut I like where our defense is right now, and seeing us cut our turnovers down a bit today really makes it a little [easier] going into this weekend.âÄù