Minnesota’s Rachel Banham gets by with a little help from her friends

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Greg Bartram | USA TODAY Sports Images
Minnesota’s Banham has scored a combined 45 points in her past two games after a brief slump.

Rachel Banham doesn’t lack confidence, but she’s not immune to getting overly frustrated when she plays poorly.

A senior guard for Minnesota and the preseason Big Ten player of the year had two of the worst games of her career during a recent tournament in Florida, totaling just eight points on 2-for-18 shooting.

The Gophers (7-1), who play Sunday night against Butler (2-7) at Williams Arena, are glad her slump didn’t last long.

Banham has scored a combined 45 points in her past two games, wins against Georgia Tech and NC State.

Banham, 5-foot-9, credits her coaches, teammates and especially her father for helping her get through that low point.

“It’s always tough when you go through those stages,” she said. “I was trying to get my mind off it. It helped having my teammates step up, but I do this every year. My dad really helped me through it.”

Banham’s father, Don, talks to his daughter after nearly every game.

A retired Minneapolis police officer and former star running back at Burnsville High School doesn’t sugarcoat anything. More importantly, Rachel Banham can be honest with him about how she’s feeling — and that really made the difference this time.

“He’s been through sports and stuff, and he realizes how much [playing bad] affects me,” she said. “He’s the one person I can cry to about it, letting my wall down. He’s the first person there to pick me up.

“He made me feel so much better.”

First-year Gophers coach Marlene Stollings said Vanderbilt played a physical defense to shut down Banham in a 71-54 win in the Gulf Coast Showcase in Fort Meyers, Florida.

The next game, Banham carried that frustration over when she shot 1 of 10 from the field in a 74-50 win against College of Charleston.

Fortunately for the Gophers, freshman guard Carlie Wagner scored a season-high 17 points to pick up the slack.

“She’s too great of a player to continue to be off,” Stollings said. “We’re encouraged to see her get that out of her system. I think with all great players, they have off nights. She’s no different. She’s human. What’s important is that she stayed strong, worked her way through it and kept coming back.”

Other opponents have succeeded in limiting Banham at times. But the Gophers weren’t as equipped to give her support as they are this season.

Banham, who needs just 148 points to become the school’s all-time scoring leader, is averaging 18.1 points, 4.5 rebounds and 4.9 assists.

Senior transfer Shae Kelley is second on the team in scoring (16.6) and leads in rebounding (9.4). Junior center Amanda Zahui B. is averaging 12.9 points, 9.3 rebounds and 3.4 blocks.

“It’s so nice having other people to step up on the team; it’s so much less stress,” Banham said. “But regardless, we all need to bring it every game. You can tell when someone is not playing well, it’s a close game or we could lose. If I’m not bringing it, even though we have plenty of pieces, I still have to take my huge part on this team.”

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