Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Gophers End Skid With Win Over Northwestern

The Gopher basketball team absolutely needed a victory over Northwestern Tuesday night if they wanted to keep their diminishing NCAA Tournament hopes alive. For a good chunk of the game, they seemed disinterested in winning the game. Ultimately, the shooting of Blake Hoffarber saved the day, and the Gophers picked up the win, evening their Big Ten mark at 4-4 on the season, and breaking their three-game losing string.

Hoffarber finished with 20 points on the night, including hitting four shots from behind the arc in the game's critical final seven minutes. Lawrence Westbrook added 18 of his own to pace Minnesota.

The first half was a sluggish affair as both teams struggled from the floor. Northwestern shot 40% to the Gophers' 42%, yet Minnesota took an eight-point lead into the dressing room. NU's poor shooting continued into the second half (12-31, but 7-16 from three point territory) while Minny shot a torrid 11-19 from the floor, including 5-9 from three-point land, courtesy of Mr. Hoffarber. The game was in doubt largely because of the Gophers' inability to take care of the basketball. Minnesota kicked it away nine times in the second half and notched 15 for the game, a total which is not totally unexpected against Northwestern's "Princeton-Style" pressure defense, but far too high for a good team.

A telling statistic about the Gophers' fate of late concerns Hoffarber. It is clear that when the junior gets good looks at the basket, the Gophers have a good chance to win. He was lights-out in the win over Ohio State two weeks ago, in which he hit seven three-pointers. During the previous three games before Tuesday night - all losses - Hoffarber was a combined 2-11 from downtown.

On a positive note, the Gophers dominated the glass, out-rebounding Northwestern 35-26 for the game and managed to block 11 Wildcat shots.

A matchup against Ohio State looms for the Gophers this weekend in Columbus. It is the game which the Gophers need to impress the Tournament Selection Committee. Think of it as an "RPI game," similar to several the Gophers need to pick up the rest of the way to avoid an NIT berth.

A pedestrian win over Northwestern is a good way to start the drive to the March Madness.

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