Gophers Streaking In Right Direction Now

With a three-game winning streak in tow, the Gophers face a week that will tell us a bit more about the future of this basketball team.

Tubby Smith's team, coming off a 23-point win over Northwestern on Jan. 22, visit No. 9 Michigan State and host No. 22 (and falling after being upset by Wisconsin) Illinois this week, hoping to show the road wins over No. 8 Indiana and Penn State and the home rout of Northwestern were no flukes.

When the Gophers opened the conference season with two straight road losses, one of them was to Illinois, in double overtime.

Minnesota, playing its only game of the week, had it all working against the Wildcats, with all five starters scoring in double figures.

"It's only one game," said guard Julian Welch, who scored 14 points and added six rebounds and five assists. "You have to prove yourself in practice and improve. We have a lot to improve on. We have a lot more games to play, but the attitudes have been great.

"When you're winning, that always helps." We got the ball inside and made some shots from the outside."

Freshman guard Joe Coleman, making his fourth college start, scored 16 points and added five rebounds, three assists and three steals.

"We have been right there the whole time, it is just a matter of executing," said Smith. "We added some toughness to our lineup when we inserted Joe Coleman and it has been huge for us. It has been contagious.

"I saw Ralph (Sampson III) being more aggressive and (Rodney Williams) getting to the basket."

NOTES, QUOTES

Gophers need to keep their suitcases packed

--The Gophers, winners of three straight games, are in the midst of a stretch that calls for five of eight games on the road. They beat Northwestern at home on Jan. 22 and now visit No. 9 Michigan State, then host No. 22 Illinois before visiting Iowa and Nebraska.

--The Gophers have mixed in some flex offense to their attack, which is adding more ball movement to the attack.

"It's not something we're doing exclusively, but it gives us some real continuity," coach Tubby Smith told the Star-Tribune. "We kind of use it because we needed more movement, more screening."

Said forward Rodney Williams: "He wants us to get up and down the court more; I think this offense helps that out."

BY THE NUMBERS: 30-for-52 -- The cumulative shooting numbers by Minnesota's starting lineup in Sunday's 75-52 win over Northwestern; a .577 percentage.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "Being aggressive and just going at teams. We started out slow and were playing out of the loop. We had to start playing to win and going out and taking teams down like we're supposed to do and not letting them attack us first." -- G Joe Coleman on what has changed with his team, leading to three straight wins after an 0-4 start in the Big Ten.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

THIS WEEK'S GAMES:

--at Michigan State, Jan. 25

KEY MATCHUPS: Michigan State is led by forward Draymond Green, averaging a double-double with 15.0 points and 10.2 rebounds per game.

--vs. Illinois, Jan. 28

KEY MATCHUPS: The Gophers opened their Big Ten season with a double-overtime loss to Illinois, despite 23 points and nine rebounds by Ralph Sampson III. The Illini have a balanced attack led by guards Brandon Paul and D. J. Richardson.

FUTURES MARKET: Freshman guard Joe Coleman continued his strong play as a starter, leading the Gophers to their big win over Northwestern. He led five players in double figures with 16 points, five rebounds, three assists and three steals.

PLAYER NOTES

--Junior F Rodney Williams had another strong all-around game in the Jan. 22 win over Northwestern. He scored 11 points, but also had four steals, three rebounds, three blocked shots and two assists. He leads the active Gophers in both scoring and rebounding, at 10.7 points and 5.8 boards per game.

--Updating the Gophers on the medical front: the Minneapolis Star-Tribune reported injured star Trevor Mbakwe is still attending classes and hopes to get a sixth year, which the school will apply for soon; and sophomore center Mo Walker, who hasn't played since December, 2010 because of a knee injury and reconstructive surgery, will redshirt this season and still have three years remaining.

--Nine different Gophers have started at least four games so far this season.


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