Saturday, March 7, 2009

Gopher Hoops Has Some Work To Do Now.....

Despite shooting 55% from the floor, holding Michigan sharpshooter Manny Harris largely in check, and once again dominating the boards and the paint, the Gopher basketball team could not get it done against Michigan at the Barn on Saturday, losing 67-64. The loss dropped the Gophers from achieving a first round bye in next week's Big Ten Tournament and puts their NCAA Tournament hopes in serious jeopardy.

Minnesota played large in the paint all game long, eventually opening a 12-point lead over the Wolverines in the second half. Once Gopher forward Damian Johnson picked up his fourth foul, the tide turned Michigan's direction. Laval Lucas-Perry drained consecutive three-pointers, finishing the game with 19 points off the bench on 6 of 7 shooting. After a slow start, DeShawn Sims scored 24 and Manny Harris chipped in 14 for the Wolverines, whose NCAA bid is now probably solidified - highlighted by wins over Duke and UCLA.

The Gophers suffered defensive lapses late in the second half, which cost them the game. However, the team's inability to take care of the basketball again (17 turnovers) helped lead to their downfall. Lawrence Westbrook followed up his huge game against Wisconsin earlier in the week with a solid 16 points off the bench. Senior Jamal Abu-Shamala had 10 points on Senior Day, equaling his high total of conference play. Freshman Ralph Sampson III added 13 on 6 of shooting, all within the paint.

The Gophers trailed by three points with four seconds left with Coach Tubby Smith called for a timeout to set up a play. Moments after the TO was called, Westbrook drained a desperation three-pointer, which was of course nullified.

The Gophers are currently tied for seventh in the Big Ten at 9-9. The top five teams get first round byes in the upcoming Big Ten Tournament, into which Minnesota cannot break. Michigan, also 9-9, holds the tie-breaker over the Gophers by virtue of their season sweep. Wisconsin and Ohio State are both 9-8 going into their Big Ten regular season finales tomorrow against Indiana and Northwestern, respectively. Northwestern (8-9 in confernce play) has a ton to play for tomorrow, as their first-ever NCAA Tournament bid hangs in the balance. Minnesota swept Wisconsin this year and split games against the Buckeyes and Wildcats.

With 21 wins, Minnesota still has a chance of receiving an at-large bid. However, the team's recent play, going 3-6 in its last nine, highlighted by two losses against fellow bubble team Michigan, will ring in the selection committee's memory. To have any chance of getting a bid, they need to win at least two this weekend in Indianapolis, and three wins would be even better. Of course, the prospect of winning four games in four days is daunting to say the least, and probably unnecessary for the Gophers' hopes. That said, Minnesota absolutely needs to take care of business this weekend.

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