I think she's just going to rip and roar'

Carlie Wagner predicts that Rachel Banham will break the 40-point mark Friday in her first game back with the Gophers women's basketball team since last December.

Minnesota's Rachel Banham shoots over a Butler defender during a game last December. Banham sustained a season-ending knee injury but has been granted another year of eligibility.

Carlie Wagner predicts that Rachel Banham will break the 40-point mark Friday in her first game back with the Gophers women's basketball team since last December.

That's not that far-fetched; the senior guard's career high is 39 points.

"I think she's just going to rip and roar," said Wagner, the University of Minnesota sophomore guard. "I think she's ready to go. She's hungry to play basketball again. I'm not going to be surprised if she scores 45 points in the first game. We call her Kobe Banham, the Maroon Mamba. I don't think she missed a shot the other day in practice."

Banham, who tore her ACL last season but returned for her fifth year to get a shot at the school's career scoring title and play in her first NCAA tournament, is certainly capable of an offensive explosion in Friday's opener against Wofford at Williams Arena.

But the U's second all-time leading scorer -- she trails Lindsay Whalen by 107 on the career list -- doesn't have to carry as big an offensive burden as she has in the past.


For the first time in Banham's career, she'll be playing with another guard who can light it up: Wagner.

"We both can score," Banham said. "I think we both can get 20 points a game if we want. We hit a lot of threes, so that's just a lot of scoring in general. Being back on the court with Carlie, I think we just work really well together."

Ohio State was one of the top teams in the Big Ten last season with conference co-player of the year Kelsey Mitchell and Alston Ameryst averaging 23 points and 19 points in the backcourt, respectively. Outside of that tandem, Banham (18.6) and Wagner (12.1) have the highest combined scoring average of any two returning guards in the Big Ten.

Banham, a Lakeville native, was the team's leading scorer before suffering a season-ending knee injury in the 10th game, a win at North Dakota.

Wagner, who started the last 23 games in 2014-15 in Banham's spot, averaged 13.8 points and made 42 three-pointers in 18 conference games. The New Richland, Minn., native had a six-game stretch in which she averaged 19 points, which included a season-high 25 against Michigan State.

The Gophers were 5-1 in those games with Wagner on a hot streak.

"She doesn't hesitate," Banham said. "She has all the confidence in the world with the ball. She makes big shots as well."

Wagner's confidence might not be where it is if not for having filled a bigger role in Banham's absence last season. She was grateful for the experience.


But Wagner and her teammates are eager to be playing alongside Banham again instead of wearing warm-up shirts in her honor.

"I don't think we'll be wearing the 'Buckets for Banham' shirts anymore," Wagner said. "I think we're even happier to have her on the court than to play for her. It's more fun to play with her. If you've ever watched a game, it's so much fun to watch Rachel when she's on fire. We're going to take that motivation from not playing with her and put it to playing with her. It's going to cause a lot of excitement for this team."

Gophers second-year coach Marlene Stollings, who ended the program's six-year drought by reaching the NCAA tournament last season, is faced with the daunting task of replacing All-America center Amanda Zahui B. and All-Big Ten first team forward Shae Kelley. Both are now in the WNBA.

Stollings' team has little frontcourt experience, so she'll likely go with a four-guard lineup, including seniors Shayne Mullaney and Mikayla Bailey.

That means Wagner and Banham will have to rebound more this season, but the Gophers won't need the Maroon Mamba to go for 40 points.

"We don't want to put added pressure on her (to score)," Stollings said of Banham. "Mentally, we know it's going to take a few games to get into the swing of things and get back to where she wants to be."

Stollings signs four out-of-state recruits

Gophers women's basketball coach Marlene Stollings wasn't able to land her first high school recruit from Minnesota, but she signed a talented four-player class for 2016 on Wednesday.


Leading the group is four-star point guard Gadiva Hubbard, who won back-to-back state championships and earned all-state honors for Princess Anne High School in Virginia Beach, Va.

"It's not close to home, but Coach Marlene and (assistant Nikita Lowry Dawkins) have been recruiting me for a long time," Hubbard said in a statement. "Everyone made me feel so comfortable and at home on my visit. UMN has one of the greatest pharmacy schools, allowing me to fulfill my career dream while balling at the same time. The coaching staff is great and my future teammates are, too. Big Ten, here I come!"

Hubbard is ranked 27th nationally among recruits who are guards by .

Joining her in signing with the Gophers are New York point guard Jasmine Brunson and Michigan twin forwards Kehinde and Taiye Bello.

The Bello sisters, both 6 feet 2, helped Southfield-Lathrup High School finish with a 21-2 record and No. 3 ranking in Michigan's Class A division last season.

The 5-7 Brunson, who played for Bayside High School in Queens, N.Y., before transferring this year to Mary Louis Academy in Jamaica Estates, N.Y., gives the Gophers another ball handler next season when seniors Rachel Banham and Shayne Mullaney will be gone.

The state of Minnesota's 2016 class consisted of four top-100 players, but Stollings' biggest miss was Hopkins four-star wing Nia Hollie, who signed with Michigan State on Wednesday.

Hollie initially leaned toward committing to Minnesota, but she said the Spartans ended up being the right fit.

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