MINNEAPOLIS — The Creighton women’s basketball team had Minnesota on the ropes, holding a 17-point lead with seven minutes to play in regulation.
But the Golden Gophers (11-3) evaded the knockout blow, eventually pulling out an 88-81 double-overtime victory in front of an announced crowd of 3,486 at Williams Arena on Sunday.
Creighton’s 54-37 second-half lead didn’t hold up as Minnesota, led by Rachel Banham, scored 21 of the final 25 points in regulation to force overtime.
Banham, a sophomore guard, finished with a career-high 39 points, 33 of which came after halftime. Her output was the sixth-highest in Minnesota history and the most by a Bluejay opponent since Texas Tech’s Jia Perkins scored 41 on Creighton in 2002.
“We couldn’t control Banham,” Creighton coach Jim Flanery said. “That’s what great players do, they find ways to win games. She definitely did that.”
With 2:43 left in the first half, Banham fell and appeared to hit her head on the court. She left the game, and less than two minutes later, Creighton took a 20-point lead — its largest of the game — on a Marissa Janning 3-pointer. But Banham would return.
In the final seven minutes of regulation, Banham was in the zone. She scored 12 of her team’s 21 points in that span.
“I knew I had to take over the game,” said Banham, who averaged 20.1 points entering Sunday.
All the while, Minnesota used a zone defense and press to force six of Creighton’s 12 second-half turnovers.
“I thought their zone kind of flipped the game there,” Flanery said. “We definitely got tight the last six to eight minutes.”
The Bluejays (8-3) trailed by eight with 2:08 left in the first overtime, but an 11-3 spurt forced a second extra period. Junior guard Jordan Garrison capped the rally by sinking a high-arching 3-pointer with eight seconds remaining.
Minnesota stymied any comeback attempt by Creighton in the second overtime. Banham and junior forward Micaella Riche sparked the 12-3 push that finally closed the door on the Bluejays, who dropped their first game away from Omaha this season. Riche scored 21 of her 23 points after halftime and added 10 rebounds.
In the opening half, Creighton had runs of 16-2 and 11-2 to grab a sizable lead, which held for much of the game.
Minnesota coach Pam Borton was pleased with her team’s demeanor, but credited the Bluejays for building such a large lead.
“We knew we had our hands full coming into today,” Borton said. “I’ll put money that they’re going to win their conference this year.”
While Banham stole the show, Creighton also had solid individual performances.
Junior forward Sarah Nelson finished with 19 points and nine rebounds, and junior guard Carli Tritz scored 17 points to go with eight rebounds and seven assists. Janning, a freshman guard from Minnesota, had 18 points, seven rebounds and four assists before fouling out in the first overtime. Garrison also finished in double figures with 11 points.
Flanery appreciated Borton’s prediction that Creighton will win the Missouri Valley Conference, but he isn’t satisfied entering conference play Thursday at Southern Illinois.
“I hope we’re the best team in the league today, but as we showed last year (when Creighton won the conference tournament as a No. 4 seed), it’s not necessarily who’s the best at the beginning of the conference season,” Flanery said. “You got to get better, and if we continue to do that we’ll be fine.”