Gophers pass another early test, grind past Navy

Minnesota was led by Rachel Banham and Amanda Zahui B. all afternoon.

Minnesota center Amanda Zahui B. regains control of the ball against Navy on Sunday at Williams Arena.

Lisa Persson

Minnesota center Amanda Zahui B. regains control of the ball against Navy on Sunday at Williams Arena.

Jack Satzinger

Many college basketball teams aren’t tested in November before conference play begins. But the Gophers were this weekend.

Minnesota got yet another taste of intense March competition before Thanksgiving, scraping past Navy 62-55 on Sunday.

Navy (4-2) has made the NCAA tournament in three straight seasons, and it competed with Minnesota (4-1) until the end.

“Down the stretch, it was like a Big Ten game,” Minnesota head coach Pam Borton said.

The Gophers held a huge size advantage over Navy on Sunday, and Amanda Zahui B. took advantage of it.

The redshirt freshman scored 16 points and snagged a game-high 13 rebounds for a double-double. In last week’s 70-59 win over Kansas, she recorded a triple-double.

After multiple strong performances, the 6-foot-5-inch center is facing more pressure from opposing defenses.

“Amanda’s gotten herself to a point where people are watching her on tape,” Borton said. “They’re going to force other people to make shots.”

That’s exactly what Navy did in Sunday’s game, crowding the paint and leaving the perimeter open for long-range shots.

The Gophers capitalized on those open looks. Senior guard Sari Noga made three three-pointers in the win, some of which were made possible by Zahui B. passing out of double teams.

Rachel Banham also made three three-pointers Sunday en route to a game-high 18 points.

Banham also reeled in seven rebounds and ran with them, aiming to create fast-break opportunities.

“I tried to push it more [in the second half],” Banham said. “I think that’s something we have to do — score in transition. I think that helps us get easy points.”

Forward Kayla Hirt also helped stretch the floor by knocking down open shots to score 10 points.

“I did have a lot of open opportunities,” Hirt said, “but I do think I’m capable of getting 10 points every game, too.”

Hirt and other Minnesota post players spent much of their time on the defensive end fighting through screens.

Navy used those screens to get shooters open beyond the arc, which culminated in 26 three-point attempts. It only converted seven of those shots, but it exposed a potential weakness in Minnesota’s ability to defend smaller lineups.

“I think it is [a concern] when you’re playing a team like Navy,” Borton said. “That’s not what we do in the Big Ten. When we’re playing schools like this, it’s a tougher matchup for us.”