Folks who were quick to discard the Minnesota Golden Gophers after Rachel Banham’s ACL injury have increasingly looked foolish.
Sophomore center Amanda Zahui B. remains the focal point of Minnesota’s resiliency. On Tuesday night against the No. 13 Iowa Hawkeyes at Williams Arena, Zahui was nearly unstoppable. Her 39 points and 29 rebounds highlighted a 93-80 win for Minnesota, a victory that virtually assures them a spot in the NCAA tournament.
Zahui’s effort was a timely one, receiving a pregame honorary ball for surpassing the career block record at Minnesota (21-6, 10-5) and additional balls may be required. Zahui set a new career high in scoring, passing the 1,000-point milestone in the process. Her 29 rebounds broke the previous Big Ten single-game record of 26, set in 2001 by Iowa’s Jerica Watson.
“Some of these things are just unprecedented. She’s a total package in her commitment to this program,” said Minnesota head coach Marlene Stollings.
Iowa (21-5, 12-3) jammed Zahui early in the first half thanks to strong one-on-one defense from Bethany Doolittle, who recorded five blocks before halftime. Zahui’s offense proved relentless, however, and she thrived in the second half when her Minnesota teammates created enough space to dodge opposing posts.
“I had to get closer to the basket, push them down lower, and not let their arms and hands distract me,” Zahui said. “I will do anything it takes for us to win.”
Freshman guard Carlie Wagner added 17 points and 6 assists. She ignited the Gophers offense with three triples in a row to start the game and finished with five makes behind the arc.
Iowa’s reliance on the three-point shot was no match for Minnesota’s interior production. The Hawkeyes hit 11 out of 35 three-pointers, far less efficient than the 8-of-12 mark from the Gophers. In the paint, Minnesota posted a 48-30 edge.
“When you got shooters shooting that well from three-point range, there’s no help you can give Beth inside. We wanted to zone, but we could not do that,” said Iowa head coach Lisa Bluder.
The most pleasant aspect of Minnesota’s win was playing in front from the 18:09 mark in the first half. Quick starts have been a problem for the Gophers most of the season, and they usually find themselves trailing significantly by halftime. Minnesota eschewed that trend on Tuesday with a 48-42 halftime lead while rebuffing multiple runs from Iowa.
“That’s huge for us. We’re playing our best basketball of the year, without question. They believe that they’re going to win the game, and that’s powerful,” Stollings said.
With 7:31 to go in the second half, a three-pointer from Samantha Logic brought the Hawkeyes to a 73-72 margin. The Gophers responded with a 20-6 run, ensuring their first winning conference record in six years.
Logic led the Hawkeyes with 26 points and 13 assists. Doolittle finished with 18 points and 11 rebounds.
Minnesota will play in their final home game Saturday against Michigan. With three games remaining, the Gophers currently hold the fourth spot in the Big Ten standings, holding a tiebreaker over Ohio State. A top-four finish would give Minnesota a double-bye to the quarterfinal round of the conference tournament.