Gophers Adavance to Semifinals, Play UNC

Tonight, the Gophers will face their toughest non-conference foe in North Carolina. UNC enters the game with a 2-0 record, a talented squad and a hunger to return to dominance in college basketball. The Gophers will no doubt have their hands full on Friday but may have enough experience and poise to advance to the finals of the Puerto Rico Tip-Off.

Coming off an impressive win against Western Kentucky, the Gophers will look to topple a giant in the Tar Heels of North Carolina. Minnesota played extremely well against Western Kentucky winning by a score of 95-77 with all five starters scoring in double figures.

The Gophers looked good passing the ball but as expected, excelled down low in the post. Ralph Sampson had 22 points and eight boards while Trevor Mbakwe added 18 points and 10 rebounds. Minnesota will need to use their size in the front court to overpower the Tar Heels and get their big men in foul trouble. If the Maroon and Gold can put Tyler Zeller and John Henson on the bench they will be able to dominate in the paint.

Scoring should not be problem for the Gophers. The issues may come when the Tar Heels get out and run on the break. UNC is one of the most dangerous teams in the country in transition. The speed that the Tar Heels get down the court is like nothing the Gophers will see in conference play. They have quick guards who can distribute the ball to players like Harrison Barnes and Reggie Bullock for open jumpers.

If the Gophers want to advance to the finals they will need to play tough defense and try not to give up easy buckets on the break. Players like Al Nolen, Rodney Williams and Trevor Mbakwe should have no problem keeping up and will be key in stopping the Tar Heels' transitions offense.

Last game against Hofstra, the No. 8 ranked Tar Heels dominated from beginning to end, scoring 107 points while only allowing 63. Many of these points were on the break, in transition for easy points. Besides the fast break, UNC's scoring in the first half came at the hand of freshman Harrison Barnes.

Barnes scored 19 points in the first half including hitting all four of his three-point attempts. Barnes will be a key to this game even if he doesn't score a lot of point. The Gophers' defense will be keying on the 6-foot-8 wing which may leave some openers for other players to step up in his place.

This game will be yet another high scoring game. The Tar Heels will get their fair share fast break points while the Gophers will try to keep the game at their own pace. Minnesota's big men should again have dominant games to edge out one of the top teams in the county. Expect a score of 88-85 in this semifinal thriller.

To share your thoughts on this article please go to Gopher Basketball Forum.

To follow on Facebook click HERE

Gopher Illustrated Top Stories