The University of Minnesota (5-5) women's basketball team used a dominating first half and double-digit points from four different players to post an 81-46 victory over Air Force (4-6) Wednesday night in non-conference action at Williams Arena.
Freshman Rachel Banham led all players with 18 points on 8-of-14 shooting, to go along with a career-high six assists, four steals and six rebounds. Junior Katie Loberg followed with 15 points on 6-of-8 shooting and a team-best seven rebounds, while Leah Cotton, who her made her first start of the season and third of her career against the Falcons, had 14 points on 6-of-9 shooting from the floor.
Senior Kiara Buford rounded out the quartet of double-digit scorers with 13 points to extend her streak of double-figure scoring performances to 10 games, while matching her career-high with six assists. The guard also added five steals and four rebounds.
With her pair of free throws with just over 10 minutes to play in the first half, Buford surpassed Marty Dahlen for sole possession of the No. 13 spot on the Minnesota career scoring register and now has 1,174 career points.
As a team, Minnesota shot a season-high .484 against Air Force, connecting on 31-of-64 from the field, to post a season-best 81 points. The squad had only 15 turnovers in the contest, compared to 27 by the Falcons, had 16 steals to the visitor's six and added a season-best 18 assists.
The Gophers got off to their best start of the year when they took an early 7-0 lead on Air Force to open the first half. Banham's jumper in the paint started the game off on the right foot for Minnesota, before Loberg stretched the lead to four points with a pair of free throws. The Maroon and Gold then took a seven-point lead on a basket and free throw by Cotton.
Air Force answered with a 10-4 run to pull within one point of the home team, 11-10, but it would be as close as it would get to the home team, as the Gophers went on a 36-13 run to end the half. At one point, the Maroon and Gold rattled off 16 unanswered points, a stretch in which the defense held the Falcons scoreless for 7:13.
Buford had five of her seven first-half points during the 16-0 run, while Loberg tallied four of her team-high 12 first-half points during the stretch.
The Gophers' 47 points in the first half were the most in a half this season and their 24 point lead heading into halftime was also their largest of the year. The home team also shot a season-best .548 in the opening stanza.
The Gophers continued to impress in the second half, opening the stanza on a 15-5 run, which included six points from sophomore Sari Noga and four points from Banham, to take a 62-28 lead.
From there, the Maroon and Gold would go on to lead by as many as 40 points to easily secure the win.
Minnesota concludes its four-game homestand this weekend when it hosts Harvard and Alcorn State in the Best Buy Classic at Williams Arena. The Gophers will face Harvard Saturday at 4:00 p.m., before wrapping up the event vs. Alcorn State Sunday at 2:00 p.m.