The world avoided another doomsday prophecy on Friday, but for Northern Iowa, an apocalypse would have ended their frustrations.
In a rematch of last year’s WBI tournament final, Minnesota floored Northern Iowa for an 86-43 win at Williams Arena.
“We did a great job setting the tone defensively, then Rachel (Banham) set the tone offensively for our team. That fuels everybody,” said Minnesota head coach Pam Borton.
The Gophers (10-3) have no trouble taking opponents seriously, but their fourth straight win was a signal that lower-level Division One teams are no longer a challenge they once posed.
Minnesota’s first-year players are largely responsible for the recent domination. Banham did her usual damage, scoring a game-high 26 points, with freshman guard Shayne Mullaney getting 17 points and eight rebounds. Kayla Hirt, a redshirt freshman who has bounced back from a two-year absence due to ACL injuries, earned her first college double-double with 12 points and 12 rebounds.
“Game by game, as my minutes have increased, I’m getting more confidence,” Mullaney said.
“The last two weeks, I’ve been able to focus on my drive, boxing out, rebounding and setting better screens for my teammates,” Hirt said.
Defensively, the Gophers overwhelmed the Panthers (4-7) from the opening tip. Northern Iowa made just 23.9 percent of their field goals, well below the 52.5 percent mark Minnesota posted. The Gophers also had a 44-28 edge in rebounds.
Jacqui Kalin led Northern Iowa in scoring with 11 points, but no one could establish any rhythm as a result of Minnesota’s defense. Brooke Brown, the starting guard from Chaska, Minn., did not score a field goal, settling for six points from the free throw line.
Minnesota’s “sleepers” pose an interesting scenario for Borton, who will have to decide how to distribute time when their roster reaches full strength. She is considering a redshirt for Amanda Zahui B. to allow her more time to adapt to American basketball, and has previously discussed keeping Mullaney in the starting lineup when Mikayla Bailey recovers from mononucleosis.
Although Bailey serves as a defensive specialist, Mullaney’s rise has been helpful for Banham as the sophomore rebuilds her stamina.
“Shayne’s doing a great job at the point, but Bailey’s really important to our team. She’ll be icing on the cake when she comes back,” Borton said.
Minnesota’s next opponent, Creighton, is considered the most reliable testament to Minnesota’s prospects before Big Ten Conference play begins. Creighton is unranked, but they have received an early boost from freshman Marissa Janning, a Minnesota prep standout from Watertown-Mayer.