Monday, February 22, 2010

Gopher Cagers Keep Hopes Alive

After a crushing previous week which saw them lose winnable games to Michigan and Northwestern, the Gopher basketball team rebounded with impressive victories over ranked Wisconsin and league bottom-feeder Indiana. With an 81-56 victory over the Hoosiers at Williams Arena on Saturday night, the Gophers capped a 2-0 week and moved to 16-10 overall and 7-7 in Big Ten play.

Seniors Lawrence Westbrook (20 points) and Damian Johnson (16 points, 10 rebounds) led the way as Minny avenged a crushing OT loss to Indiana in January. Ralph Sampson III added 11 points, and all eleven Gophers scored, including little-used Bryant Allen, who notched a three-point basket for his first points as a collegian.

Minnesota shot 55% from the floor for the game and limited themselves to 11 turnovers for the game. Their pressure defense helped hold Indiana to 32% shooting for the game, including an ice-cold 28% in the first half, which saw the Gophers build a 19-point lead. One game after holding Wisconsin to 31% shooting, Indiana shot 32%. It's much easier to win games when the other team shoots poorly, but give the Gophers' defense some due credit.

The Gophers won the rebounding advantage 40-32, but Indiana grabbed 15 offensive boards to the Gophers' ten. This must improve in the league's final four games.

The Gophers face a critical week ahead with tests at home against Purdue on Wednesday night and at Illinois on Saturday. Purdue was ranked #4 this past week and the Illini are one of the teams ahead of Minny in the standings. Right now, the Gophers would finish sixth in the Big Ten, meaning they would be forced to play on Thursday in the conference tournament. For a team which will likely need to win one or two games in the Big Ten Tournament to have a shot at an NCAA Tourney bid, the Gophers desperately want to stay out of the Thursday games and winning one or two of the games this week will help that cause. Winning two games will put them on the right side of .500 and give the NCAA selection committee something to think about.

It's refreshing to see the Gophers play two solid games on the heels of two of their most disappointing losses, but this team still has a long way to go to grab an NCAA bid.

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