March 25, 2012
Behind a strong second-half performance, the second-seeded University of Minnesota women's basketball team won the 2012 Women's Basketball Invitational (WBI) Championship Sunday afternoon with a 88-74 comeback victory over Northern Iowa (19-15) in front of the home crowd at Williams Arena.
The Golden Gophers concluded the 2011-12 season with a 19-17 overall record and with a season-best four-game winning streak. It is the first winning season for Minnesota since the 2008-09 season, when it recorded a 20-12 record and made an appearance in the NCAA Tournament.
Senior Kiara Buford, who had 14 points, six assists and four steals in the title game, was named the 2012 WBI Most Valuable Player, while freshman Rachel Banham, who scored a game-high 26 points for the home team, was named to the all-tournament team.
The Gophers trailed by as many as 13 points in the early minutes of the second half, but Banham scored 17 of her game-high 26 points in the final 20 minutes of play to help the home team put together an impressive 52-25 run to end the contest. Prior to Sunday's contest, the Maroon and Gold had not come back from a halftime deficit and had never come back from more than 10 points down this season.
Including Banham and Buford, five Gophers scored in double-figures for the first time this year. Banham led the way with 26 points, Buford scored 14 points, sophomore Sari Noga contributed 12 points and fellow sophomore Micaëlla Riché and senior Jackie Voigt added 11 points apiece. Voigt's 11 points were a season-high, while Riché also chipped in a team-best eight rebounds.
Minnesota shot a season-high .618 (34-55) from the floor overall, which included a .667 (6-9) mark from beyond the arch, and also outrebounded the Panthers, 33-21. The Maroon and Gold scored 16 of its points off offensive rebounds, compared to only two for the visitors.
In a change from the Gophers' earlier contests in the tournament, the home squad was at its best in the second half. The Maroon and Gold registered a season-best .677 (21-31) shooting percentage from the field in the final 20 minutes of play, including .833 from three-point range, which culminated in 56 points, its most points in a single half this season.
The Gophers fell down early in the game, 19-10, thanks to 12 points from UNI senior K.K. Armstrong, but the Maroon and Gold slowly made its way back into the game, with Banham connecting on a three-pointer at 10:34 to make the score 19-16, before Buford pulled the home team within two points with a jumper at 9:17.
But, three-pointers proved to be a thorn in the Gophers' side in the opening stanza, as the Panthers connected on seven treys in the first 16 minutes to take a 34-24 lead. The home team would trail by as many as 12 points near the conclusion of the first half, but headed into halftime down by nine points, 32-41.
Buford and Banham led the squad in the first half with nine points apiece, while Northern Iowa had three players in double-figures, paced by Armstrong's 15 points. Minnesota shot efficiently in the first 20 minutes of play with a .542 (13-24) shooting percentage, but Northern Iowa made 13 of its 23 attempts from the floor to tally a .565 mark from the floor.
Two more three-pointers from the Panthers to open the second half put the Gophers in a 13-point hole, 49-36, at 17:30, but Voigt rattled off four-straight points to cut the Maroon and Gold's deficit to single-digits, 49-40, at 16:05 and started a 33-10 run for the home team.
A rebound and putback by Noga at 14:21 pulled Minnesota to within six points of the Panthers, 47-53, and Banham made it a one-point game with a three-pointer at 12:07. A three-pointer off the hand of Noga at 10:33 gave the Gophers their first lead of the game, 58-55, before a layup by Banham and another three-pointer, this time by Voigt, extended that lead to six points, 63-57 with 9:04 to play.
Noga connected on four-straight free throws to put Minnesota ahead by nine, 67-58, at 7:48 to cap the the run. From there, the home team would hang on to at least an eight-point advantage, which would eventually extend to 16 points, on its way to claiming the WBI postseason crown.
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