Gophers dominate Air Force

Minnesota beat the Falcons 81-46.

Guard Leah Cotton makes a lay-up in the game against Air Force Wednesday night in Williams Arena. Cotton started for the first time in Wednesdays game.

Image by Erin Westover

Guard Leah Cotton makes a lay-up in the game against Air Force Wednesday night in Williams Arena. Cotton started for the first time in Wednesday’s game.

by Adam Richard

The Gophers womenâÄôs basketball team has leaned on its two top guards for much of the season. After getting thrashed by Baylor on Sunday, head coach Pam Borton rolled out a three-guard set to start.

It worked out Wednesday, as Rachel Banham, Kiara Buford and Leah Cotton lead the Minnesota to an 81-46 win against Air Force at home.

Buford had 13 points, four rebounds and six assists. The senior guard has been the most consistent player for the Gophers (5-5) this season. She is averaging 13 points per game along with four rebounds and three assists.

Buford has scored in double figures in every game this season and has done so in 10 straight games, which leads the Big Ten.

Banham continued her assent through the college ranks against Air Force.  She followed up a 19-point performance against Baylor with an 18-point performance against the Falcons.

She added six rebounds, six assists and four steals. Banham also learned some valuable lessons against the full-court press of the Falcons while improving her shooting to 57 percent in the win

She said Wednesday that her confidence is âÄúgetting better now that IâÄôm starting to make shots; before I was struggling. IâÄôm more confident shooting the ball and thinking that itâÄôs going to go in.âÄù

After the Baylor loss, Borton said that the GophersâÄô guards are capable of taking over every game. In an effort to get more guards on the court, she started Cotton for the first time this year.

Cotton didnâÄôt disappoint.  She maintained her defensive intensity and had a smooth stroke on the offensive side of the court. 

She finished with 14 points on 6-for-9 shooting but didnâÄôt play much of the second half.  Cotton said she had some breathing problems in the second half.

Borton said the three guards starting against Air Force got the team off to a much better start.

âÄúThey really handled the pressure and were getting easy baskets on the other end and changing the tide from how we have started games,âÄù Borton said.

She added that she will start the trio of guards this weekend and in the foreseeable future.

âÄúIf weâÄôre going to go anywhere this year, we have to do it with our guard play,âÄù Borton said.

Minnesota improved its fouling troubles and poor shooting Wednesday. The Gophers committed only 12 personal fouls in the game and shot 48 percent from the floor. 

âÄúI think the fouls are down because weâÄôre playing smarter basketball,âÄù Borton said. âÄúRachelâÄôs been shooting better; Leah shot a great percentage tonight; Katie [Loberg] shot a great percentage.  ThatâÄôs three players that shot the ball pretty well, and those people are taking more shots than anybody else.âÄù 

Minnesota emphasized post play this week after a sub-par performance against Baylor.  Loberg responded with a great night, shooting 6-for-8 for 15 points and adding seven rebounds against the Falcons.

Best Buy Classic

Minnesota will take on Harvard and Alcorn State this weekend at Williams Arena.  These games will end the GophersâÄô four-game home stand. 

Harvard has been best known for academics, but its womenâÄôs basketball team has had recent success as well. 

It finished with an 18-10 record last season.  Harvard is 3-4 this season and has won two straight, but lost its only game against Big Ten competition to Iowa 90-81.

Alcorn State is winless on the season and scored only 36 points in its last game against Oklahoma State.