"We run a lot of plays, but the players, in the end, have got to score the basket. They've got to get the ball in the hole, and I thought early on we had a problem with that and that was the same problem we had at Illinois. We didn't finish around the basket."
The Gophers, who had gone 12-1 in their non-conference schedule but also lost preseason All-American Trevor Mbakwe to a season-ending knee injury, were bound to find life tougher in conference play. And the matchups to start the league season against previously ranked Illinois and No. 18 Michigan sounded like a daunting task.
Still, they had a chance to win either or both games.
A quick look at the upcoming home opponents don't seem to offer much relief to Smith's team, which clearly has to learn how to win in the conference.
In Iowa, they get a 9-6 team that split its first two league games, losing to Purdue, at home, and then going on the road an upsetting No. 11 Wisconsin. Then comes 12-3 Purdue, off to a 2-0 start in Big Ten play with wins at Iowa and at home against Illinois.
Heading into the Jan. 1 loss at Michigan, forward Rodney Williams said, "I think we can really contend for a Big Ten title. Even though we're a young team, we've shown we have that fight in us. We can shock a lot of teams out there in the Big Ten."
--Minnesota had a chance Jan. 1 in Ann Arbor to do something the program hasn't done since January, 1985: beat a ranked team on the road. And the Gophers were as close as a 3-point shot away from upsetting No. 18 Michigan, but a Rodney Williams trey was no good and the game was gone.
--The Gophers took only one free throw in the first half at Michigan, and only eight for the game (they made six). Michigan was 15-for-23 from the line.
--Minnesota is eighth in the Big Ten in scoring (69.6) and seventh in points allowed per game (61.4).
BY THE NUMBERS: 8 -- The number of 3-pointers made by Minnesota at Michigan, accounting for 24 of the Gopher's 56 points in the loss. The Gophers were 8-for-19 from behind the arc in the game, after going just 4-for-14 at Illinois.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "The close losses, those are the ones that hurt the most. But we can't let these two losses determine the way the rest of our Big Ten season is going to go. We've got a lot of games left to play, and I think we'll be all right." -- G Rodney Williams after his team lost at Michigan on Jan. 1 to go to 0-2 in Big Ten play.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
THIS WEEK'S GAMES:
--vs. Iowa, Jan. 4
--vs. Purdue, Jan. 8
KEY MATCHUPS: Two more tough Big Ten opponents for the Gophers, who at least get to play them at home. In Iowa, Minnesota has to deal with a balanced attack that shows eight players averaging between 13.3 and 6.7 points per game. In Purdue, the Gophers have to deal with senior forward Robbie Hummel, currently fifth in the Big Ten in scoring (16.5) and eighth in rebounding (6.2).
FUTURES MARKET: Freshman F Elliott Eliason, who put in some strong minutes during the non-conference schedule, averaged 15 minutes during his first two Big Ten game. He scored two points and had five rebounds at Illinois and then had the same numbers in the loss at Michigan. He was 2-for-6 from the floor in the two games.
--F Ralph Sampson III, the only senior in the playing rotation with F Trevor Mbakwe gone for the season with a knee injury, had 22 points and nine rebounds in the double-overtime loss at Illinois, but scored just six points while grabbing 11 rebounds at Michigan. He is sixth in the Big Ten in blocked shots.
--G Julian Welch has started the last eight games and shared the team lead in scoring with forward Rodney Williams with 11 points at Michigan. Welch is fifth in the Big Ten in free throw percentage, sixth in 3-point field goal percentage.
--F Rodney Williams is second in the conference in blocked shots, third in steals and fourth in field goal percentage.
--F Trevor Mbakwe, who led the Big Ten in rebounding last season, tore the ACL in his right knee in a late November loss to Dayton and is out for the season. Mbakwe finished his junior season with 19 career double-doubles.