|Ohio State guard Tayler Hill (4) steals the ball from Minnesota guard Sari Noga in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Minneapolis, Sunday, Jan. 29, 2012. (AP Photo/Andy King)|
Minnesota women topple No. 9 Ohio State 76-65
MINNEAPOLIS—Kiara Buford hadn't enjoyed a win by Minnesota over a nationally ranked opponent since her freshman year. The up-and-down senior shooting guard got her reward after giving the Gophers one of her best all-around games of the season.
Rachel Banham scored 20 points and made three 3-point attempts, helping Minnesota beat No. 9 Ohio State 76-65 on Sunday.
"Anything I can do to make our team get on a roll and play well, that's what I'm going to do," said Buford, who added 15 points and a season-high seven assists for the Gophers (12-11, 4-5 Big Ten) and frustrated former high school rival Tayler Hill on defense all afternoon.
They beat a team in the Top 25 for the first time since a victory over Notre Dame in the NCAA tournament in 2009. They dominated in the post, outscoring the Buckeyes 36-20 in the paint with Katie Loberg and Micaella Riche taking it to the hoop without hesitation to combine for 21 points and 11 rebounds.
But the work Banham and Buford did in the backcourt against Ohio State's star guards.
Samantha Prahalis, the reigning Big Ten Women's Player of the Week, snapped to life in the second half with 19 of her 25 points. But Ohio State (20-2, 7-2) never fully recovered from some early shooting struggles. Minneapolis native Tayler Hill led the team with 26 points, but she shot just 3 for 11 from 3-point range.
"It just wasn't falling," Hill said.
Prahalis scored the first five points of the second half to pull Ohio State within 34-33, but Banham -- the flourishing freshman point guard -- answered with a 3-pointer. She got fouled shooting behind the arc two minutes later and swished all three free throws.
"I think we had her in a good place, and we bailed her out," Buckeyes coach Jim Foster said.
Said Banham: "I get to the line. You've got to play smart defense, I guess. I was getting hit, and the refs were seeing it."
Banham picked up her fourth foul shortly after halftime and spent much of the stretch on the bench, but the rest of her teammates picked up the slack.
Prahalis, the niece of Minnesota Twins bench coach Scott Ullger, tried to fire her team up with a flurry of fast moves to the basket for tricky layups and well-timed 3-pointers to keep the game competitive.
She picked up her fourth foul near the 7 1/2-minute mark for an ill-advised backcourt reach-in. She hit back-to-back 3-pointers, the last bringing the Buckeyes within 63-59. The spunky, dark-haired native of upstate New York with a scowl to match her on-court intensity nodded her head and flashed her hot hand to the Williams Arena crowd after the second one with less than six minutes left.
That was as close as they came, though.
Prahalis missed a pair of free throws with 2:26 left and the Buckeyes trailing by 10, causing the Gophers fans to roar with delight. The attendance of 5,626 was their most at home this season.
"Who doesn't want to beat a ranked team? I think that's really cool. And I think doing it front of all those people shows that we're a great team, too," Banham said. "I think they'll want to come out and support us more."
After seven NCAA tournament appearances in eight seasons, including a trip to the Final Four in 2004, the Gophers haven't been able to regain that success. Since that first-round win against Notre Dame nearly three years ago, they're 13-27 in Big Ten games. Their previous victory over a Top 10 team was in 2006, here against Michigan State. They'd beaten Ohio State only three times in the last 15 meetings.
But they stymied the best shooting team in the Big Ten, with three of the top six individuals by percentage. Hill, the conference's leading scorer, finished 8 for 23 from the floor. The Gophers were also 16 for 17 from the foul line, and the Buckeyes went just 14 for 24.
Buford, who guarded Hill several times in the past at St. Paul Central High School when Hill starred for Minneapolis South, was all smiles after her performance.
"I just tried to stick to the game plan and keep pressure on her. Make her take some outside shots and keep her out of the lane," Buford said. "When they were down and needed to score, I could see it on them."