Wednesday, March 4, 2009

It Wasn't Pretty......

....but, the Gophers got it done against Wisconsin Wednesday night, winning 51-46. Lawrence Westbrook picked a good time to score all of his 15 points - in the second half. The Gophers closed out the game on a 10-0 run, with all points coming via Westbrook. It's the first time Minny's swept the season series against Bucky since the 1991-92 season, and Westbrook had a lot to say about both wins.

He scored 29 in the miracle 78-74 win at the Kohl Center in January, when the Gophs rallied from 14 down in the second half to win in OT. In this game, he started on the bench, went scoreless for the first 30 minutes of the game, and then took control down the stretch. Among his 15 point performance was a 7-7 mark at the free throw line - all in the final minutes of the game when Wisconsin rallied to take a two possession lead.

The Gophers are now 21-8; 9-8 in the Big Ten. As I wrote Tuesday, this game was important to both teams, but absolutely crucial to Minnesota's NCAA Tournament hopes. With the win, Minny jumps to fifth place in the Big Ten standings (knocking them out of bottom six teams, which gives them a first round bye in the Big Ten Tournament next weekend). Wisconsin drops from fourth place all the way to seventh (the Gophers now hold the tie breaker over Bucky), and their NCAA hopes are now in peril.

During the course of the game, the Gophers really clogged up the paint, forcing the Badgers to settle for long-to-medium range jumpers. At one point midway through the second half, Minnesota held a 20-2 advantage on points in the paint. This trend was similar to last week's loss at Illinois when the Gophers dominated the paint and the glass but could muster only two field goals outside the lane for the entire game. Wisconsin did get some points near the basket in the game's final minutes, which was largely responsible for their ability to take a lead. Still, Bucky shot 33% from the floor and 35% from beyond the arc. Take away Marcus Landry's 4-7 performance from three-point range, Wisconsin's performance was a paltry 3-13. Credit the Gophers' three-quarter court pressure defense and their ability to clog the lane to prevent Landry from posting up down low and getting good looks. Landry kept the Badgers close with his long-range shooting in the first half, and Joe Krabbenhoft and Trevon Hughes were top performers in the second half. One key to the victory was the Gophers forcing 13 turnovers from a team averaging just over 10 a game, which ranked fifth nationally. They forced 18 in their win at Madison earlier in the year.

It's not as if the Gophers shot the lights out of the ball. They shot just over 41% from the floor and were a dismal 1-8 from three-point range. The inability of the Gophers to establish jumpers continues to be problematic. Minnesota missed far too many shots near the basket and could have put Wisconsin in a world of trouble in the first half had it made some shots in the paint.

Still, it was nice to see the Gophers - namely Westbrook - close out a game. It was a must-win game, the crowd was buzzing, and they took care of business. Credit Tubby Smith for shaking up the starting line-up a bit tonight and keeping Nolen and Westbrook on the bench to start out. He was providing the opposition with a different look to start the game.

They need a win on Saturday at home against Michigan as well. Clark Kellogg stated on tonight's BTN broadcast that the Gophers will be in the big dance with a win against Michigan regardless of their performance in the Big Ten Tourney. With all due respect to "Special K," I believe they still need 1 or 2 wins in Indy next week in addition to a win on Saturday to assure a spot in the field.

Oh well, one down; one to go!

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