Nolen Might Be Final Hope, Prayer For U

Early Wednesday, just before his team suffered its eighth loss in nine games, Trevor Mbakwe tweeted hope. He said that defensive ace and senior co-captain Al Nolen, who's missed the last 10 games with a broken foot, would return in time for the squad's matchup against Penn State Sunday in Minneapolis.

And then, he corrected himself. He said his source misled him and in fact, Nolen would not be playing Sunday.

Adding to the confusion, coach Tubby Smith said the senior is working hard to get back in time for next week's conference tournament.

"Hopefully we can get him back by the Big Ten. I know he's doing the bone stem and treatment and doing whatever he can to try and get back," Smith said.

He said he didn't pay any attention to Mbakwe's buzz-setting message.

"I don't bother with the tweet," he said.

Nolen might be this team's last shot at a postseason miracle. The Gophers might have to win the conference tournament to earn an NCAA Tournament bid. Nolen's return could revitalize a team that's near rock-bottom, but that's placing a lot of hope -- and pressure -- on a player who might not even be cleared to return.

BEYOND THE BOX SCORE: The last time the Gophers played Talor Battle, he led Penn State to victory by scoring 28 points. In the Big Ten standout's last regular season game, the Gophers will have to find a way to stop him. Maverick Ahanmisi may start again. He helped the Gophers limit Juice Thompson in the first half Wednesday. But it's a tall task to ask a freshman to stop of America's top seniors.

NOTES, QUOTES

--The Gophers led Northwestern 41-31 with 13 minutes to play. And then they collapsed, a troubling trend for this team. The Wildcats bounced back on Senior Day with a dazzling run that resulted in a 68-57 victory in Evanston, Ill., Wednesday night. Alex Marcotullio and Juice Thompson scored 18 points apiece for the Wildcats. Trevor Mbakwe recorded his 17th double-double of the season for the Gophers (14 points, 12 rebounds).

--Tubby Smith started Maverick Ahanmisi against the Wildcats and moved Blake Hoffarber back to shooting guard. The late-season move didn't help the senior get back to his shooting ways. Hoffarber went 1 for 5 from beyond the arc and scored five points.

--For the last 17 seasons running, Tubby Smith has won at least 20 games. That streak is in jeopardy. The Gophers have 17 wins with one regular-season game and a conference tournament to play. They'll probably get into some postseason tournament but there's clearly no guarantee that Smith will keep the streak going.


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