Banham raising her game when Lynx need her most

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Rachel Banham has learned to stop caring and simply start playing.

Sounds easy, but it's not.

Banham, the former Lakeville North legend and Gophers star, is in her seventh season in the WNBA, her third with the Lynx. And she is coming off the best month of basketball she has played since she wore maroon and gold.

In 11 July games, coming off the bench as the top backup guard, Banham averaged 20.5 minutes and 12.4 points as the Lynx went 6-5. She shot 52.2% overall and made 29 of 58 three-point attempts (50%) . She scored in double figure in seven of those 11 games, making her a leader for the WNBA's best bench.

"I have found my rhythm,'' Banham said Tuesday from Seattle. She was headed to a practice to prepare for Wednesday's game against the Storm. After a 3-13 start, the Lynx have won nine of their last 17 games to push themselves within striking range of a playoff berth. Into Tuesday's games, the Lynx were a game out of the eighth and final playoff spot with five games left to play.

Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve will tell you the Minnesota bench — which leads the league in scoring for the season (26 points per game) — that led the way in stabilizing the team after that difficult start. And, even with Damiris Dantas away from the team for personal reasons — which meant Jessica Shepard went from top reserve in the post to starter — that number rose to 29.6 ppg in July.

Perhaps the biggest reason: Banham.

"Rachel was one of the first to just throw caution to the wind and just play,'' Reeve said.

Sounds easy.

But for Banham, not so much. "I've always tried in the past to say, 'Just play, who cares?' " Banham said. "But I'm always overthinking things, caring too much, to a fault.''

After an up and down start to the season that saw her playing time fluctuate as well, that changed. "The way I got to this point was I kinda got mad,'' Banham said. "I put so much time in this offseason. More than I ever had. It was, "I deserve to play. I want to be out there. ... I'm going out and, if it works, it works.' ''

It has worked.

There are some keys.

The first is pace. Banham is at her best when she's pushing it. And she is doing so, consistently.

Then, during the offseason Banham and Reeve met and Reeve floated the idea of Banham thinking of herself as filling the role Malik Beasley filled for the Wolves this past season, an off-the-bench shooter. She gave Banham the green light to take some of the longer threes that were a hallmark of her great University of Minnesota career.

Also, Reeve encouraged Banham to stop trying to finish at the rim all the time and instead embrace the mid-range shot. Fans have seen that come to fruition, with Banham often dribbling to the mid-range when an opponent closes out hard on the three-point line.

"I wouldn't say it's my favorite shot, because I do love the three,'' sand Banham, who made 56.6% of her two-point shots in July. "But [the mid-range] is so comfortable. I love dribbling into it.''

As Banham's minutes and productivity grew?

"I'm playing with the most confidence I've played with since college,'' Banham said.

As her offensive role has increased, her defense has improved, too. Reeve said Banham is one of her better perimeter defenders because of her ability to navigate through screens and stay close to her opponent.

"Now I'm like, just play hard,'' Banham said. "I know Cheryl's schemes, what she wants me in. I know exactly what she wants from me, what it takes to stay on the floor.''