JAN 29, 2012; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Ohio State Buckeyes guard Amber Stokes (3) works around a pick set by Minnesota Gophers forward Katie Loberg (25) as guard Rachel Banham (1) drives to the basket in the second half at Williams Arena. The Gophers defeated the Buckeyes 76-68. Mandatory Credit: Marilyn Indahl-USA TODAY Sports

Sophomore Banham 15 points away from 1,000

The Gophers women’s basketball team will likely have two reasons to celebrate following Monday night’s game against Illinois at Williams Arena.

Sophomore guard Rachel Banham, who averages more than 20 points per game, is 15 points away from reaching the 1,000-point milestone. She will be the 21st Gophers women’s basketball player in program history to do so.

Minnesota looks to end a three-game losing streak after a close loss to No. 8 Penn State on the road last week. Pam Borton’s squad is 10-2 at Williams Arena this year and will tipoff against Illinois at 8 p.m. If the Gophers play half as well as they did against the Nittany Lions — Illinois should be a breeze.

The Gophers overcame 21 turnovers, a Big Ten season-high, against Penn State to nearly hand the Big Ten’s top program its first loss.

However, Banham contributed five turnovers of her own as Minnesota’s late surge fell short.

Minnesota had one of its best defensive efforts of the season – holding Penn State to 35 percent shooting. But it was for not, as the Big Ten’s third-leading scorer, Nittany Lions guard Maggie Lucas, was too much to handle as she scored 26 points on 50 percent shooting.

Micaella Riche, Minnesota’s post presence and best percentage shooter, sat for almost 10 minutes in the second half because of foul trouble, stifling the Gophers’ offense by making it one-sided.

In the closing minutes, Banham had back-to-back turnovers and missed a potential game-tying three-point attempt with 13 seconds left.

It’s a moral victory for a game the Gophers were not expected to win – or even compete in.

Now Minnesota has a two-game home stand, beginning with the Illini women, who are 3-0 on the road this season vs. the Big Ten.

Banham will more than likely score 15-plus points to hit the career mark, but it’s her efficiency that will decide a Minnesota win or loss.

The Gophers had their best shooting game (45 percent) of the Big Ten season against Penn State. Banham went 6-for-17, which is solid considering her recent shooting slump, but it was her supporting cast that lifted the team to near victory.

If the sophomore phenom can hit a clutch shot and if Borton can keep Micaella Riche out of foul trouble, the Illini should be one win in an upcoming string of winnable games.

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