Saturday, February 27, 2010

Gopher Hoops Wins, But......

The Gopher basketball team had a 19-point lead over Illinois with 7:30 remaining in the game Saturday afternoon. The Illini were ice-cold from the floor and the Gophers were playing one of their best games of the season. However, Illinois went on a 28-8 run over the next six minutes to cut the lead to one point with one minute remaining. Damian Johnson made a critical steal of the ball, leading to a perfect pass from Ralph Sampson III to Paul Carter, and the Gophers were able to escape with the victory 62-60.

Devoe Joseph had 16 points to lead Minnesota, which won at Champaign for the first time since 1996. Carter and Lawrence Westbrook each added 10 points.

The Gophers are now 17-11 on the season and an even 8-8 in Big Ten play. If the Big Ten Tournament started today, Minny would finish sixth and play Penn State in the first round. Finishing in the top five in regular season play means not having to play on Thursday (i.e., a first round bye). With two games remaining in the regular season (vs. Michigan and Iowa), the Gophers' win on Saturday meant they still have a shot at finishing in the top five. Of course, the other side of that equation is that the Gophers desperately need wins, and being able to play on Thursday against a team it should beat will only add to the win total. However, nobody has won the Big Ten Tournament from the play-in slot, and the Gophers are getting into territory where they need to win the tournament - or at least get to the title game - in order to get an invitation to the big dance.

Saturday's game was a microcosm of the season: good stretches and a disturbing trend of letting other teams back into games. This time, the Gophers closed the victory out; against Purdue last Wednesday, they didn't. This season will still be deemed a disappointment unless the team is able to run off 4-5 consecutive wins over the next two weeks.

Of course, taking away the five losses either in OT or by one point means this season would look much different than it currently does, no?

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