Saturday, November 28, 2009

Poor Shooting Dooms Gopher Cagers

Portland is earning itself quite a reputation this young season.

One night after blasting UCLA in the opening round of the 76 Classic, the Pilots used a tough man-to-man defense and held the Gopher basketball team to just 33.3% shooting to score a 61-56 victory over Minnesota. Portland heads to the championship game against top-10 West Virginia, while the Gophers will face Texas A&M on Sunday in the third place tilt.

Minnesota simply could not get its shooting game going all night long. Transition basketball was also a problem for the Gophers. Although the Gophers forced 19 Portland turnovers (against 10 of their own), fast break points were at a minimum all night long thanks to Portland's transition defense. Ultimately, poor shooting, and a deep hold dug in the second half, doomed Minnesota's chances.

Minnesota trailed by 11 points with 6:30 remaining in the second half before embarking on a 9-0 run, led by junior guard Al Nolen. The Minneapolis Henry grad had his finest game of the season, picking up 13 points (including 7-9 from the charity stripe), attacking the basket in the second half, and playing shutdown defense. Lawrence Westbrook and Devoe Joseph had 11 points apiece for the struggling offensive attack.

T.J. Campbell led the Pilots with a season-high 23 points, while Robin Smeulders added 13. It's not like the Pilots shot the lights out of the ball themselves (39.1% from the floor and 32% from beyond the arc), but they won the three-point battle 8-25 against just 3-19 for the Gophers. Portland came into the game shooting almost 60% from three-point range, so give the Gophers credit for forcing the Pilots into some bad looks.

If the Gophers had managed to shoot consistently in the game's final minutes (the Gophers missed their last eight shots from the floor), they would have escaped with a victory. However, the absence of consistency led directly to the loss.

Losing to Portland is not catastrophic by any measure. Portland has now beaten Oregon, UCLA, and the Gophers in this young season and should get some top-25 consideration. The problem is that the same issues which plagued the Gophers in Big Ten play last season - inconsistent shooting (especially three-point shooting) and limited transition opportunities - were apparent Friday night. Tubby Smith's crew will need to work on these issues before Big Ten play starts if this squad is to contend for a league title.

A good time to start is Sunday afternoon against a tough Texas A&M team.

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