Banham catches fire in paradise

The Gophers made the trek to Hawaii and left with two wins in three games.

Minnesota guard Rachel Banham looks to pass against Purdue on Sunday, Feb. 24, 2013, at Williams Arena.

Ichigo Takikawa

Minnesota guard Rachel Banham looks to pass against Purdue on Sunday, Feb. 24, 2013, at Williams Arena.

Jack Satzinger

Rachel Banham is one of the top players in the country, but earlier this year, she wasn’t even her team’s leading scorer.

That changed after a weekend in paradise.

Banham was red-hot as the Gophers went 2-1 at the Waikiki Beach Marriott Rainbow Wahine Showdown in Honolulu over Thanksgiving break.

She trailed redshirt freshman center Amanda Zahui B. for the team lead in points per game early this season, but she is now averaging more than 20 points per contest.

Before the season started, Banham said she was going to focus on distributing more.

But Banham heated up her scoring game when Minnesota (7-2) traveled to Hawaii.

She shot about 89 percent from three-point range in the Gophers’ first two contests for a combined 61 points.

Banham tallied 36 points against Chattanooga — just three points off her career high — and Minnesota needed every one of them in the 63-62 win. Zahui B. scored only two points in that game but reeled in 13 rebounds.

Sophomore Kayla Hirt helped Banham in a 79-55 win in the second game in Hawaii. Hirt scored 16 points to complement 25 points from Banham.

Banham did her part again late Sunday night with 24 points, but the Gophers lost to tournament host Hawaii 77-71 in overtime.

Banham hit a three-pointer that gave Minnesota a three-point lead with 4.6 seconds left in the game.

But the Warriors tied the game seconds later with a bank-in three-pointer to force overtime.

The Gophers scored just five points in the overtime session.

After a busy week, Minnesota doesn’t play again until its matchup with Miami on Thursday for the annual Big Ten/ACC Challenge.