Gophers go Big, Overpower Wildcats

MINNEAPOLIS -- With Al Nolen in street clothes on the bench, the Gophers took the floor without their leader to take on the Northwestern Wildcats. With Nolen out, Minnesota used a huge lineup to overpower the Wildcats in route to an 81-70 victory.

Game Recap

Wednesday's game began with the Gophers putting a monstrous lineup on the floor to try to outmuscle the smaller Wildcats of Northwestern. Ralph Sampson, Trevor Mbakwe, Colton Iverson and Rodney Williams started the game, giving the Gophers a big size advantage.

This size came into play early as Minnesota started the game out quickly, jumping out to a 10-3 thanks to some nice passing from Trevor Mbakwe and Blake Hoffarber. The Gophers' size created havoc inside, putting the Wildcats in foul trouble early and often throughout the game.

Minnesota started the game out in a man defense but soon switched the zone which gave the Wildcats fits. Northwestern had scored just eight points in the first 11 minutes of the game. With a 23-10 lead at the eight minute mark, the Gophers appeared to be pulling away before halftime. The Wildcats battled back by finally hitting their shots to pull within a point heading into the break at a score of 33-32.

Northwestern came out in the second and nailed a three to take their first lead of the game. Gopher forward Colton Iverson responded quickly, rattling off seven points in the first three minutes of the half to give Minnesota the lead. The Gophers extended this lead to 48-37 with 15 remaining in the game. The Wildcats hung around by knocking down some clutch threes, eventually pulling to within five before Minnesota bounced back.

Head coach Tubby Smith
Tom Olmscheid, AP Photo
Fouls plagued the Wildcats in the second half due to the inability of Northwestern's interior defense to control Minnesota's big men. The Wildcats' foul trouble coupled with the Gophers' strong inside presence was enough to give Minnesota the victory by a score of 81-70. The Gophers are now 16-4 overall and 5-3 in the Big Ten.

Inside the Game

The Gopher big men absolutely dominated the entire game. When all three bigs were on the floor, Minnesota just had too many low-post scoring options. The Wildcats tried to double but all three big men did an excellent job of passing in the post, giving their fellow forwards plenty of easy baskets.

Trevor Mbakwe was the star of the game for Minnesota, tallying 18 points, 14 rebounds, three assists and two blocks. Ralph Sampson had 14 points and hit 8-of-9 shots from the free throw line. Colton Iverson provided a huge spark for Minnesota, scoring 15 points and adding six boards. Iverson had a huge second half, scoring all 15 of his points in the final 20 minutes.

Minnesota held dangerous scorer John Shurna to 16 points on 6-14 shooting. Shurna was only 1-5 from behind the arc due to a staunch and active Gophers' defense.

Blake Hoffarber filled in for Al Nolen at the point, logging 38 minutes while doing the majority of the ball handling. Hoffarber ended the game with 20 points and four assists while hitting all eight of his free throws.

Despite scoring only four points, Rodney Williams had a solid game on Wednesday. Williams energized the crowd in the first with an enormous dunk over two Wildcats. He also had six assists on the night, mostly on nice touch passes to his forwards in the paint. The sophomore forward had to play much of the night at shooting guard and did well guarding the wing when the Gophers were in zone.

Gopher Illustrated Top Stories