MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Rachel Banham was two days removed from her 60-point performance for Minnesota when the real highlight happened.
Her favorite basketball player, Kobe Bryant, posted his congratulations on Twitter.
"I was literally shaking. I felt like I was going to start crying I was so happy. I didn't even know what to say. I was freaking out. I couldn't even tweet back right away," said Banham, who tied the NCAA women's single-game scoring record Sunday in the double-overtime victory at Northwestern. "I didn't want to say anything dumb and be embarrassing."
She settled for a simple "thanks" to Bryant with a pair of exclamation points, after sharing the screen shot with as many people she could find around campus and in her contacts.
That included Gophers head coach Marlene Stollings and her staff, who were strategizing in the office for the next game and interrupted by a frantic knock.
"She was like: 'Coach! Coach! I just got a tweet from Kobe! It changed my life," Stollings said, laughing.
Banham's 60-point game, which matched Cindy Brown's for Long Beach State in 1987, was the topper on the multilayered cake that has been her magnificent career. It wasn't all sweet, of course, considering the torn ACL in her right knee that ended her 2014-15 season at 10 games. That was shortened just enough to get a medical waiver from the NCAA for a fifth year of eligibility.
The 5-foot-9 shooting guard picked up where she left off, passing Lindsay Whalen to become the program's all-time leading scorer. She's first in the Big Ten and third in the nation, with an average of 25.8 points per game. That's the kind of take-charge, team-carrying ability that has propelled Bryant, the soon-retiring Los Angeles Lakers star, into third place on the NBA's all-time scoring list.
It's fitting, then, that Banham's nickname is "Maroon Mamba," a twist on Bryant's moniker to reflect Minnesota's primary uniform color.
"He's someone that's great to study. I've loved him for a very long time," said Banham, who has risen to third place on the Big Ten's career scoring list with 2,773 points and could soon pass Kelly Mazzante (2,919 points for Penn State from 2001-04) for the lead.
If there's a blessing-in-disguise scenario for a devastating sports injury, Banham has lived it. The rehabilitation process prompted her to study the game more deeply, improve her diet and increase her fitness. There's more lift on her jump shot, too. No wonder she was able to score so many points Sunday and play so long.
"I felt like I was in my own little world, watching Rachel play," teammate Carlie Wagner said, adding: "She just kept making shot after shot after shot. And you just knew at that point, I know it sounds bad, but I was like, I didn't want to rebound for her because it's just going to go in."
Banham made 19 of 32 shots from the field, including 8 for 15 from 3-point range, in the 112-106 win over the Wildcats. The context for Banham's barrage made it that much more remarkable, given the surge that Minnesota (16-7, 8-4) must maintain to make the NCAA Tournament.
The Gophers are in fourth place in the Big Ten, but they've only beaten two teams currently ranked in the top 80 of the Ratings Percentage Index. They're sixth in the nation, with an average of 82 points per game, but also 332nd out of 344 teams in Division I in scoring defense.
Banham won't need another 60-point performance, but the Gophers will be counting on her for plenty more production down the stretch even while double or triple-teamed by opposing defenses.
"If they do want to send two or three people at Rachel, she has openings, and we all know she's such a good passer," Stollings said. "It puts a lot of pressure on them to pick and choose. If they want to send two or three at Rachel and then we kind of soften that up by hitting a 3 and then they back off and now it's down to one player again, and she can pretty much score against anybody one-on-one."