Only 145 people attended the Minnesota Golden Gophers women’s basketball season opener Friday in the first of three games in three days at the Ocean Center in Daytona Beach, Fla.
Although such a figure can be attributed to a neutral site venue hosting the WBI Tip Off Classic, the Gophers could use such low numbers as inspiration to renew fan interest once more, and a 68-60 win over the Arkansas Razorbacks may be the first leg of a journey to redemption.
Minnesota freshman guard Rachel Banham did not have a stellar shooting performance, making six of 14 attempts, but her 15 points and four assists led the team in both categories and suggest what fans saw in exhibition play was far from a fluke. Senior guard Kiara Buford added 13 points and six rebounds with junior center Katie Loberg chipping in 12 points and seven boards.
Fittingly, Banham began the key drive that allowed the Gophers to pull away from the Razorbacks. With the score tied at 46, the Lakeville native nailed a jumper with 7:12 left in the second half to start an 11-0 Minnesota run.
Arkansas got as close as four after that point, but after reeling Minnesota’s lead to 59-55, a Loberg jumper with 2:32 remaining snuffed out any chance of a Gophers lead collapsing.
Minnesota utilized their advantage in turnovers, forcing 24 against Arkansas to mask the 18 they committed, and made 79 percent of their free throws to Arkansas’ 59 percent.
For Arkansas, center Sarah Watkins scored a game-high 18 points while reserve Lyndsay Harris scored 17 in 20 minutes of play off the bench.
Minnesota head coach Pam Borton kept the same starters she used in the team’s exhibition games, which means the re-tooled lineup of Banham, Buford, Kionna Kellogg, Loberg and Sari Noga will likely hold for at least the early portion of the season.
Game two of Minnesota’s three-game stretch at Daytona Beach is Saturday at 1:00 p.m., when they meet No. 14/13 Florida State at the Ocean Center.