Iowa women facing another offensive force

Ryan Murken
Iowa will look to slow down high-scoring guard Rachel Banham and the Minnesota Golden Gophers, right, on Monday.

The schedule allowed Iowa four days to catch its breath following an up-and-down 98-81 loss to high-scoring, sixth-ranked Ohio State on Thursday.

There won’t be any rest for the Hawkeyes on Monday.

Iowa (15-10, 5-8 Big Ten) plays its second straight game against a top-five scoring team in the country when the Hawkeyes face upstart Minnesota (17-7, 9-4) at Williams Arena.

Minnesota has won three games in a row and seven of its last eight entering Monday night’s 7 p.m. contest, climbing the Big Ten standings after a 2-3 start to the conference season.

Led by senior Rachel Banham, the third-leading scorer in the country at 26.1 points per game, the Golden Gophers enter Monday night fifth in the country in scoring at 83.2 points per game.

“They are just such an offensive-minded basketball team, they just score so well,” Iowa coach Lisa Bluder said. “They have an unbelievable scorer like Rachel Banham, who is just so difficult to guard, they shoot the 3-ball really well, they are just a great offensive basketball team.”

Banham has been as hot as any player in the country over the past week.

The 5-foot-9 senior tied the NCAA record with 60 points in a 112-106 win over Northwestern last Sunday and then scored 32 points in a 37-point win over Nebraska on Thursday.

Banham has scored at least 20 points in 12 straight games and has five games with at least 30 points this season.

“I think her confidence is at an all-time high,” Bluder said. “She knows this is her hurrah and she is taking full advantage and just playing with great confidence. She has long range and so two dribbles across half court you’d better be guarding her by then because she is ready to pull it at any time.”

Minnesota enters Monday coming off the first back-to-back triple-digit scoring games in program history after putting up 110 against Nebraska on Thursday.

The Golden Gophers have scored 100 points four time this season and eclipsed the 90-point mark eight times, including five times in Big Ten play.

Bluder is hoping that the experience of facing Ohio State, which ranks third nationally at better than 86 points per game, can help the Hawkeyes on Monday.

“I think the benefit is you are playing two of the most high-profile scorers in the country in back-to-back games plus they are both really up-tempo type teams, so I think that similarity does help a little bit,” Bluder said.

Minnesota is more than just Banham, though.

Sophomore Carlie Wagner and Banham are the top scoring duo in the country, averaging a combined 45.5 points per game.

The 5-foot-10 Wagner is averaging 19.4 points per game and the two have scored 20 points in the same game 13 times this season.

“Carlie Wagner is a great running mate with her,” Bluder said. “She is kind of in the same mold as Rachel, just two years younger. In the long run she could be as good as Rachel by the time she is a senior, she is that good.”

Iowa will be trying to snap a three-game losing skid on Monday while setting up for a late-season NCAA Tournament push.

After Monday the Hawkeyes have three of their final four games at home, two of which come against teams below the Hawkeyes in the Big Ten standings.

“We have five games left, and there’s no reason why we can’t go 4-1,” Bluder said.

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

Iowa (15-10, 5-8) at Minnesota (17-7, 9-4)    

When: Monday, 7 p.m.  

Where: Williams Arena, Minneapolis

Stat leaders: Iowa – Ally Disterhoft 16.9 ppg, 5.6 rpg; Megan Gustafson 9.0 ppg, 5.8 rpg. Minnesota – Rachel Banham 26.1 ppg, 6.3 rpg; Carlie Wagner 19.4 ppg, 5.3 rpg.

What to watch: Banham is 14 points away from moving into second place on the Big Ten’s career scoring list. If Banham passes Ohio State’s Jantel Lavender for second in conference career points she will also move into 20th in NCAA history.