Iowa bracing for high scorers Mitchell, Banham

Ryan Murken

In 1,000 games as a head coach, Lisa Bluder has prepped for plenty of challenging stretches and game-planned for her share of prolific scorers.

The veteran Iowa coach never recalls preparing for back-to-back individual performers like the ones she'll see in career games 1,001 and 1,002.

Iowa will face two of the nation's top scorers in consecutive games, starting with Ohio State sophomore Kelsey Mitchell on Thursday.

Then on Monday, Minnesota senior Rachel Banham, fresh off a NCAA record-tying 60-point performance last weekend, will be waiting in Minneapolis.

“These are two very special offensive players that we are going to see,” Bluder said.

Banham ranks third in the nation in scoring with a Big Ten-best 25.8 points per game this season.

Mitchell, who brings her sixth-ranked Buckeyes to Carver-Hawkeye Arena for a 7:30 p.m. game Thursday, is right behind at 25.1 points per game, ranking fourth in the country.

The 5-foot-8 Mitchell had 33 points in a 94-86 win over Maryland on Monday, her fourth game this season with more than 30 points.

Mitchell has scored more than 20 points in all but three games this season, including a career-high 42 against Texas A&M in November.

“People ask me, 'How do you stop Kelsey Mitchell?' Well, that’s like saying, 'How do you keep the sun from rising in the morning?' I mean, you just can’t, right?,” Bluder said. “It’s almost impossible, and that’s what you have again with Rachel Banham.”

Banham has bounced back from a torn ACL suffered 10 games into last season to re-establish herself as one of the top scorers in the country.

Her 60-point outburst in a 112-106, double-overtime win over Northwestern on Sunday matched the NCAA record set by Cindy Brown of Long Beach State in 1987. She broke the Minnesota school record of 44 and Big Ten record of 49.

“Scoring 60 on the road at Northwestern?” Bluder said quizzically of Banham. “That’s amazing.”

The 60-point performance was the 11th straight game of at least 20 points for the 5-foot-9 Banham and her fourth game of the season with 30 or more.

For Iowa, the goal isn’t to stop those two; it is to make things difficult and keep them in check.

“We are going to have to be on our A-game defensively,” Iowa junior Ally Disterhoft said. “Obviously, those two get up a lot of shots during the course of a game, so we are going to have to just focus in on that and be aware of where they are at all times."

Iowa has had a degree of success defending both players in the past.

Mitchell averaged 20.3 points in three games against Iowa last season, including 29 in a Big Ten tournament win.

Iowa held Banham to nine points the last time it faced the Minnesota standout in 2014, but she had 32 against Iowa earlier that season.

“You look forward to it, and you know it’s going to be a challenge,” Iowa sophomore Whitney Jennings said. “I think that has got to be a key for us in these next couple of days of practice is really keying on our defense.”

Reach Ryan Murken at 319-339-7369 or and follow him on Twitter at @rmmurken. 

Iowa's Whitney Jennings tries to steal the ball from Ohio State's Kelsey Mitchell during their game at Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Thursday, Feb. 5, 2015.    David Scrivner / Iowa City Press-Citizen
Andreona Keys reaches over Rachel Banham of Minnesota as she tries to steal the ball Thursday, January 14, 2016, at Mackey Arena. Purdue defeated Minnesota 84-72.