Rachel Banham is not a human. Rachel Banham is not fair. Rachel Banham should be classified as a nuclear weapon. Rachel Banham just acted out one of the greatest athletic performance artistic pieces the college game has ever seen.
She scored 60 points yesterday. I’ll repeat that. 60. Damn. Points. And she was efficient. 19-32 from the field. 8-15 from three. 14-16 from the foul line. Northwestern tried everything. They tried to hedge on screens. They tried to put Coffey on her. They tried to put Deary on her. They tried to put Inman on her. Candace Parker wasn’t stopping Banham tonight. She scored inside, outside, at the line, and if there were other ways to score, she would have done that too. She tied an NCAA record tonight. That’s just absurd.
Minnesota is a bad matchup for Northwestern. That doesn’t explain why Northwestern made Rachel Banham’s afternoon so easy. Joe McKeown said, “We were going to rotate different people on her and I thought the first half we did a decent job.” In some ways that’s true. Three or four different Wildcats were matched up against Banham against one time or another. But it didn’t really work in the first half or the second half. Banham had 20 at the end of 20 minutes.
Northwestern would run under screens on the perimeter. They’d half hedge, both not covering the shot nor covering the roll. Banham is one heck of a player. But you’ve got to be in her air space all game. Northwestern wasn’t. And Banham killed them.
The stats don’t do her game justice. She was Minnesota. For the last 15 minutes, Minnesota had one play: Banham would get a high screen. If NU didn’t switch on the screen, she’d hit a three. If they did, she’d blow by Coffey. She’d finish through contact. She was as close to unguardable as I’ve seen any player, male or female, in Welsh-Ryan Arena in the 15 years I’ve been watching games.
And still, Northwestern hung with Minnesota for more than 45 minutes. They were up 7 going into the 4th quarter, and then it started going wrong.
It happened in slow motion. Northwestern was up and rolling to start the 4th. But then Nia Coffey got called for an over-the-back. Then, minutes later, for seemingly the 15th time, Minnesota’s Jessie Edwards crumbled under contact. This time, she got the charge call, and Nia Coffey had 4 fouls. She came out. Northwestern started to fall apart.
Tell me when this starts to sound familiar.
Rachel Banham was the one who pulled Minnesota back from the brink. She hit a step back three from the corner. Then banked in a step back from the right wing. Then drove at Christen Inman and hit an and-one. Minnesota had the lead back. Northwestern would fight back to send it to OT and even got 2 good looks at the end of regulation and one more at the end of the first overtime to win it. Northwestern had plenty of chances, but the little bugaboos that have gotten to Northwestern so often this year would be the difference.
Northwestern shot 16-28 from the foul line, good for less than 60%, a mark that really boggles the mind for a team that’s built around the jump shot. The lack of depth shined through as Northwestern started picking up fouls. When Pallas Kunaiyi-Akpanah had to sit, Allie Tuttle couldn’t hold down the glass. When Nia Coffey had to sit, Lydia Rohde couldn’t stick with her defensive assignment. When Inman had to switch off of Banham with her 4-fouls, no one could challenge the senior’s shot.
And so, Northwestern finds itself in a position nobody expected they’d be in. At 14-10 and 3-9 in conference, the only route to the NCAA Tournament looks like it goes through the Big Ten Tournament final in Indianapolis.
There couldn’t have been a much crueler way for that message to be banged home.