Feb. 27, 2012
Minnesota freshman Rachel Banham became only the second Gopher in program history to be named the Big Ten Conference Women's Basketball Freshman of the Year Monday night when the conference office announced its postseason award winners. The rookie was also voted onto the All-Big Ten Second Team by both the league's head coaches and media and was a unanimous selection for the Big Ten All-Freshman Team, while senior guard Kiara Buford garnered All-Big Ten Honorable Mention honors by both entities.
"It is an honor for Rachel to receive Big Ten Freshman of the Year accolades and to make Second Team All-Big Ten," head coach Pam Borton said. "This is one of the strongest and most talented freshmen classes that I can remember in this league, and it is an honor for all the respected coaches in the Big Ten to think as highly of Rachel as we do."
Banham follows in the footsteps of former Gopher standout Janel McCarville, who is the only other Minnesota player to be named the league's rookie of the year and the only other Gopher to also be named a member of the All-Big Ten Second Team in her freshman campaign.
"Rachel has proven over and over with her play and consistency that she can flourish at this level and on the national scene," Borton continued. "For her to come in and do the things she has done for our program, and to make a statement in the Big Ten like she has again and again has been remarkable. All of the additional things Rachel has had to handle at such a young age takes a lot of maturity, great teammates, mental toughness, confidence and support from people around her. A lot has to go into her performance that most people cannot grasp."
Banham has made an immediate impact on the Minnesota women's basketball program in just one season, as she led Minnesota and all Big Ten freshmen with 16.1 points per game, which ranked seventh in the conference, en route to the Freshman of the Year award. The Golden Gopher newcomer earned Big Ten Freshman of the Week honors five times this season and was also named the Big Ten Player of the Week on one occasion.
She heads into the Big Ten Conference Tournament with a streak of 26-straight games in which she has scored in double-figures, an active stretch that is the second-longest in the league. Banham has posted double-digit scoring performances in 28 of the Gophers' 30 games this season and has led the Maroon and Gold in scoring on 19 separate occasions.
"It was (Rachel's) goal at the beginning of the year to be the Big Ten Freshman of the Year," Borton stated. "We did everything possible for her as coaches to help her reach this goal by challenging her, setting the bar high, holding her accountable and supporting her every step of the way. After accomplishing this, and where she ranks in the Big Ten statistically, now her work really begins. I have never seen such a humble player accomplish something like this and realize that she has a lot of work to do to get better. That is what I am most excited about... she knows that she has to continue getting better, because she wants to be the best."
Buford has been a consistent and dominating presence of the floor in her four years at Minnesota, and her honorable mention accolade proves just that. It marks the fourth-straight year in which Buford has received All-Big Ten honors, as she was a member of the Big Ten All-Freshman Team in 2009, and earned honorable mention honors from both the coaches and media as a junior and from the conference's media members in her sophomore campaign.
With 11 points vs. Penn State Sunday afternoon, Buford surpassed Carol Peterka to become Minnesota's eighth-best scorer all-time with 1,442 career points. She is the first player to move into the top-10 on the Gophers' scoring register since Emily Fox finished her career ranked No. 7 with 1,449 career points in 2009. Buford is now only eight points away from passing Fox for the seventh-best scoring total in program history and from also reaching a career-milestone of 1,500 points.
Buford ranks fifth all-time at Minnesota with 124 three-point field goals, is ninth with 156 steals, and ranks 10th with 306 free throws, 57 blocks and 266 career assists.
"I am very happy and excited for Kiara in making the All-Big Ten Honorable Mention team," Borton said. "Kiara is a player that has continued to get better. She is one of the hardest working and most focused players we have had in a few years, and she has always committed herself to getting better. What most people don't see from her is her leadership abilities and all the work she does with her teammates off of the floor. That is hard to replace in a leader and is a skill that will take her as far as she pushes herself in life. Kiara is a big part of Rachel's mentoring, as well. They have been inseparable this year because they knew they could help each other on and off the floor."
In addition, senior forward Jackie Voigt was named Minnesota's recipient of the Big Ten's Sportsmanship Award for the second-consecutive season. Recipients are student-athletes who have distinguished themselves through sportsmanship and ethical behavior. In addition, they must be in good academic standing and have demonstrated good citizenship outside of the sports-competition setting.
"Jackie exemplifies all that a teammate and coach could want as part of a team," Borton said of Voigt. "She is a great ambassador for our program, University and the Big Ten in all aspects. This sportsmanship award is well deserved and goes to a great leader, player and teammate. Jackie is someone that our fans appreciate because she engages in people and makes everyone she comes in contact with feel special."
The Golden Gophers head out to Indianapolis, Ind., for the 2012 Big Ten Women's Basketball Tournament March 1-5. No. 8 seed Minnesota will take on No. 9 seed Wisconsin Thursday at 5:00 p.m. CT. Each contest of the tournament will be broadcast live on Big Ten Network.
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