Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Westbrook Carries the Day for Gopher Hoops

Penn State guard Talor Battle is viewed as one of the Big Ten's top pro prospects. On Tuesday night, he did not disappoint the patrons with his performance. However, the Gophers' Lawrence Westbrook was a bit better, and Minnesota jumped on his back for a 75-70 victory over the Nittany Lions in the Big Ten conference opener for both teams.

Westbrook poured in 29 points on 11-16 shooting on Tuesday night to lead the way. Only Blake Hoffarber (11 points) also reached double-figures for the Gophers in scoring, as the team struggled offensively.

Battle's 23 points, six rebounds, and four assists kept the Lions around. However, it was Westbrook which carried the day. The senior scored 16 of his points in the game's final 11:30 and his 29 points tied a career high mark, set last season in the improbable come-from-behind victory at Wisconsin.

The rest of the game wasn't pretty for Minnesota. The Gophers struggled with flow the entire night. The team shot just 49% from the floor. Take away Westbrook's 11-16 mark, the overall shooting percentage was 41%. The Gophers were out-rebounded (33-28) and needed a comeback effort in the second half to record the win. Part of the reason PSU stayed around was the 61% shooting percentage the Lions recorded in the second half, including 6-10 from three-point land. One positive area for the Gophers, however, was the eight turnovers for the game. The defense forced 16 Penn State turnovers, many of which occurred in the first half.

The Gophers' winning streak has now reached six games, and the overall record has reached 10-3. A matchup against Iowa looms on Saturday in Iowa City. The Hawkeyes were competitive against #4 Purdue on Tuesday night before losing, but Iowa is in a state of flux right now, and it is a game the Gophers should win. Iowa is 5-8 on the season and averages just 64 points a game - most of that notched in 12 non-conference games (The Gophers average 80 a game). Minnesota won in Iowa City last season and should do so again this year. They'll need the momentum, because, as the Star Tribune's Myron Medcalf points out, the month of January features trips to Purdue, Michigan State, and Ohio State.

It wasn't pretty on Tuesday night, but the winning streak continues and the Gophers are perfect in Big Ten play - albeit 1-0.

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