Minnesota Falls to No. 9/12 Penn State, 78-74

Go Gophers! Rachel Banham drives to the basket for a layup.
Go Gophers!
Rachel Banham drives to the basket for a layup.
Go Gophers!

March 2, 2012

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Despite holding a 13-point first-half advantage, the eighth-seeded University of Minnesota women's basketball team fell just short of upsetting top-seeded No. 9/12 Penn State, 78-74, Friday night in the Big Ten Conference Women's Basketball Tournament quarterfinals at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, Ind.

The loss dropped the Gophers' record to 15-17 on the year, while the Lady Lions improved their record to 24-5 and advanced to the Big Ten Tournament semifinals against the winner of Purdue vs. Michigan State.

The Maroon and Gold outshot the Lady Lions, .475 to .362 and also won the battle on the boards, 42-40.

Each team had a quartet of players in double-figures, but it was Big Ten Freshman of the Year, Rachel Banham, who posted the game-high with 25 points on 10-of-21 shooting. The rookie added nine rebounds, three steals and two assists in 37 minutes of action.

Senior Kiara Buford also had a big night for Minnesota, scoring 19 points for the second-straight game on 7-for-13 shooting, with four rebounds, two assists and two steals, while fellow seniors Brianna Mastey and Jackie Voigteach added 10 points in the effort.

After falling down 5-2 to open the contest, the Gophers rattled off a 9-0 run to take an 11-5 lead on the Lady Lions with 16:40 to play in the first half, but thanks to the sharp three-point shooting of Penn State's Zhaque Gray, the Lady Lions pulled to within one of the Maroon and Gold, 12-11, at the 14:43 mark.

Minnesota was not flustered, however, as it put together another run, this time an 8-0 clip, to extend its lead back to nine points, 20-11, with 11:21 to play in the opening half. A pair of free throws from Voigt and back-to-back buckets off the hand of Banham put the squad ahead by 13 points, its largest of the game, at the 7:54 mark.

A united team effort helped the Gophers maintain a sizeable lead for the remainder of the opening stanza, as they headed into the locker room with a 36-29 advantage.

Banham led all players with 10 points and six rebounds through the first 20 minutes of the contest, while four additional players had at least four points. Mastey put up eight points on 4-for-4 shooting from the floor and grabbed a pair of boards.

Penn State opened the second half on a 6-0 run to pull within one point of the Gophers, 36-35, at the 18:16 mark, and it wasn't until the 17:32 mark that the Maroon and Gold put in its first field goal of the half to go up by three points.

The Lady Lions again closed the gap to a single point at 16:45, before taking its first lead since the opening minutes of the contest, 40-38, on a three-point play by Penn State's Nikki Greene at 15:21. By the 14:18 mark, the Lady Lions had put together a 16-2 run to lead the contest, 45-38.

Foul trouble hampered the Maroon and Gold in the second half, as it put Penn State in the double bonus with 10:13 left to play in the game.

A pair of free throws by Buford and a basket by Voigt brought the Gophers to within four points of Penn State, 58-54, but a 10-4 run by the regular-season champs made it a 10-point contest at 5:13, 68-58.

A three-pointer by Banham made it a six-point contest at the 2:23 mark and a short jumper from Buford pulled Minnesota to within four points, 71-67.

Buford then sank a pair of foul shots to make the score, 73-71, with 26.9 seconds to play and Banham knocked down a three-pointer to pull the Gophers to within two, but the visitors were forced to foul the Lady Lions' Maggie Lucas, who hit both free throws to close out the game.

Minnesota will learn its postseason fate on Monday, March 12. The 2012 NCAA Women's Basketball Selection Show will take place at 6:00 p.m. CT, while selections for the WNIT will be announced later that evening.

-UM-