Gophers Flirting With .500 in Big Ten Play

Playing without injured best player Trevor Mbwake, gone for the year, the Gophers are a game-by-game treat of ups and downs. But, all in all, things are going pretty well for Tubby Smith's team. And if you believe good teams make their own luck, consider what happened in the closing seconds of regulation time against Illinois on Jan. 28.

Down by three, sophomore guard Austin Hollins drove down the floor with his team clearly needing a 3-point shot. But instead of pulling up and trying one, he drove, scored and, for some reason, was fouled with :04 on the clock.

He made the free throw and the Gophers (16-6) won the game in overtime, avenging a double-OT loss to the Illini on their floor and giving Minnesota its fourth win in the last five games.

"When I came off the handle, I could have shot the three; I knew that's what they wanted me to do, but I drove to the basket so I knew I'd have to try to get a foul," Hollins said. "I was just happy to hear that whistle, and then with the ball rolling around the rim, I was just happy to see it go in."

No foul and the game is likely over. Even if Minnesota fouled on the inbounds, there would have been something like three seconds left and the ball would have gone to the other end of the floor.

But the Gophers got the break.

The loss in their recent 4-1 run was in the previous game, at No. 11 Michigan State.

So, the 1-1 week left the Gophers at 4-5 in the Big Ten, with a manageable road week coming up.

The two games for the week are both on the road, where Minnesota is 2-3 (with a win at No. 8 Indiana), but the games are at Iowa (11-10, 3-5 conference) and Nebraska (11-9, 3-6) so these are games that can be won.

Again, though, it depends which Minnesota team you get. It often changes during games, but it's all added up to a solid overall season, and a decent Big Ten record even without Mbwake.


Gophers working overtime in games with Illini

--Minnesota split a pair of overtime decisions against Illinois, losing in double OT at the Illini Dec. 27 and then winning in one extra session at home Jan. 28. It is the first time the Gophers played two overtime games against the same team in a season since they split with Purdue back in 1977.

--The Minnesota bench, which totaled nine points in the loss at No. 11 Michigan State, outscored its Illinois counterpart 39-9 in the OT win, combining to shoot 13-for-25 from the floor, 5-for-12 from 3-point range.

--The 52 points the Gophers scored at Michigan State were the fewest for the program since last year's team scored 48 on the same floor on Feb. 22.

--Minnesota was 6-for-18 from 3-point range in the win over Illinois, which was just 3-for-21 from behind the arc.

--Underclassmen scored 64 of the 77 points in the win over Illinois.

--The Gophers have three wins over teams in the RPI top 50 since Jan. 12.

--Illinois' Myers Leonard forced overtime in the game there with two free throws and then committed his fifth foul fouling Austin Hollins with four seconds left in the rematch. He had 17 points, 13 rebounds and four blocked shots.

"Meyers Leonard fouling out of the game was huge for us in overtime," said Minnesota coach Tubby Smith.

BY THE NUMBERS: 15-for-18 -- Minnesota from the foul line down the stretch against Illinois, after starting the game 6-for-15.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "The play originally was for him to take the three but he saw something different and that's a part of the game of basketball." -- Coach Tubby Smith on guard Austin Hollins driving for a game-tying 3-point play instead of pulling up for the 3-point shot.



--at Iowa, Feb. 1

--at Nebraska, Feb. 5

KEY MATCHUPS: There are tough road trips in league play and then there are trips that aren't quite as tough. File this one under the latter.

It's not that Iowa and Nebraska are bad basketball teams. Neither is under .500. But Iowa was just 11-11 and Nebraska 11-9. Both are under .500 in the conference.

However, the Gophers did lose to Iowa, at home, already this season, falling 64-62 Jan. 4 and falling to 0-3 in Big Ten play. The Gophers are 4-2 since.

Minnesota's four road games in the conference to date were at previously ranked Illinois, No. 18 Michigan, No. 8 Indiana and No. 11 Michigan State. The Gophers won at Indiana, so you would have to think they can win at both of these venues.

Last week, Iowa and Nebraska played each other and Nebraska charged from behind for the road win.

Neither has the star power but Iowa can score.

FUTURES MARKET: Sophomore G Chip Armelin tied his career high with 14 points and also pulled down a career-best seven rebounds in 24 minutes in the overtime win over Illinois. He was also 3-for-6 from 3-point range.

"What can I say about him? He was probably player of the game," coach Tubby Smith said. "He's one of our worst 3-point shooters, but now since we've been playing in the Big Ten he's been one of our better 3-point shooters, and he's got a lot of confidence."

The 3-for-6 left Armelin 14-for-44 from 3-point range for the season.


--Junior F Rodney Williams scored 15 of Minnesota's 52 points in the loss at No. 11 Michigan State, going 6-for-10 from the floor and 3-for-5 from 3-point range. Williams than had just six points and two rebounds in the win over Illinois.

--Sophomore G Austin Hollins scored 14 points against Illinois, including his team's last six points in regulation. He forced overtime with a drive (a more-than questionable decision) to the basket for a 3-point play with four seconds left to force OT.

--Freshman G Andre Hollins scored five of his team's first seven points in overtime and finished with 12 points, three assists and three steals.

--Freshman G Joe Coleman had nine points, eight rebounds and three steals in the win against Illinois.

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