Gophers Start Tough Stretch With OT Loss

Tubby Smith has helped put Minnesota back on the map. The Gophers struggled in recent years, but under Smith's direction have become a respectable program in the Big Ten Conference. The Gophers, though, have hit a plateau over the past two seasons, bringing to questions Smith's status with a new athletic director coming on board for next year.

Smith has two years left on his contract, but remains optimistic that he will receive an extension. Minnesota athletic director Joel Maturi is retiring this summer, with Smith pushing for a new practice facility separate from Williams Arena to be competitive with the other conference schools. The Gophers have not won an NCAA Tournament game in Smith's five years. Smith's status continues to hang over the program, causing a bit of distraction and overshadowing some of the recent success.

"Oh, I'll be back here," Smith said. "(University President) Dr. (Eric) Kaler and I have visited some early in the year. Certainly this is the right place for me and my family. ... We've had our share of missteps and disappointments, losses, injuries and departures. All those things go into play when you start to make decisions, but I expect to be back here."

Minnesota's resurgence in recent weeks, aside from its 68-61 overtime home loss to Wisconsin on Feb. 9, is a strong point of emphasis for Smith's supporters. The Gophers opened up a difficult stretch with a tough loss to the No. 21 Badgers. The Gophers (17-8, 5-7) needed a win to help their NCAA Tournament chances, with the Wisconsin game the first of five of their next six against teams currently ranked in the Top 25.

The Gophers host No. 3 Ohio State on Feb. 14 and hit the road to play a suddenly tough Northwestern squad then return home to battle No. 11 Michigan State and No. 23 Indiana. Minnesota closes out the difficult segment by traveling to Wisconsin. Right now, after two losses in their last three games by a combined 11 points, the Gophers find themselves squarely on the NCAA Tournament bubble and need a few more quality wins to snare an at-large bid.

"The good teams that are going to be playing after the season are the teams that do their work," Smith said. "They get it done this time of year."

NOTES, QUOTES

Bench dominant in win over Huskers

--The Minnesota bench went on a rampage Feb. 5, outscoring its Nebraska counterpart 40-7 in a 69-61 victory over the Cornhuskers in Lincoln.

"I've said it before. Guys like Elliot (Eliason) have been giving us solid play and certainly Andre Hollins has been giving us solid play," coach Tubby Smith said. "It is a team effort all of the way around.

"I don't look at how guys that come off the bench. Somebody has to start, it just so happened that the five guys that started the game started. We got a little superstitious and keep that starting line up together."

Sophomore guard Chip Armelin led the charge by the bench with a career-high 15 points, five rebounds and three assists.

--Minnesota trailed Nebraska by eight points in the first half before coming back to win.

"It was a solid performance for us," said Smith. "I know that we were coming off of a tough loss at Iowa and knowing that Nebraska had beaten Iowa there, we knew that we were in for a tough game."

--The Gophers were up 59-54 with 3:24 left and suffered a 63-59 loss at Iowa Feb. 1. They then avoided their first two-game losing streak since opening the Big Ten schedule with four straight losses with the win at Nebraska.

--Minnesota came into this season with six straight wins over Iowa, but lost both games to the Hawkeyes.

--The Gophers won the first of the two games against Nebraska and end the regular season with a home game against the Cornhuskers on March 3.

--The win over Nebraska was Minnesota's 17th of the season, matching the win total from last year, when the Gophers finished 17-14.

--The Gophers host Wisconsin Feb. 9 and then have to play in Madison on Feb. 28. The game against Ohio State is the only one of the regular season.

BY THE NUMBERS: 17-for-30 -- Minnesota from the foul line in the two recent road games, a 56.7 percentage. The Gophers were just 8-for-16 in the win at Nebraska.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "It means a lot. It was a building kind of game, just to get us back on our feet." -- G Chip Armelin after the Gophers won at Nebraska.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

THIS WEEK'S GAMES:

--vs. Ohio State, Feb. 14

KEY MATCHUPS: It's the only game of the regular season with the Buckeyes. Ohio State is led by 6-foot-9 All-American forward Jared Sullinger who is leading the Buckeyes in both scoring (17.4) and rebounding (9.1).

TRENDING: Freshman guard Joe Coleman played a big role during Minnesota's resurgence in January, but has fallen on hard times in February. The 6-foot-4 Coleman started for the first time in his career against Purdue on Jan. 8, beginning a stretch of scoring in double figures in four of six games, including 14 points against the Boilermakers and a career-high 23 points against Penn State. But Coleman's suffering through a bout of the freshmen blues by failing to score for the third straight game against Wisconsin. Coleman, who has started nine straight games, has failed to score a point in Minnesota's three February games on 0-of-8 shooting, putting his starting spot in jeopardy. "I know Joe (Coleman) is having a tough time scoring although he's doing some stuff on the board," said Minnesota coach Tubby Smith after the Wisconsin loss.

FUTURES MARKET: We're going to go with a repeat here. Sophomore G Chip Armelin tied his career high with 14 points in a win over Illinois the previous week, and then broke that career best with 15 points, five rebounds and three assists in the Feb. 5 road win at Nebraska.

"We just played well and shot the ball well in the second half. We did a good job rebounding and (Chip) Armelin gave us a lot of energy off the bench," said coach Tubby Smith.

PLAYER NOTES

--Freshman guard Andre Hollins answered some of Tubby Smith's concerns over lack of consistent play from the bench in Minnesota's 68-61 overtime loss to Wisconsin on Feb. 9. Hollins came into the border clash with the Badgers averaging 5.6 points, but erupted for a team-high 20 points in 28 minutes off the bench. He did most of his work from outside, drilling 5-of-6 3-pointers and picking up six rebounds. The 6-foot-1 Hollins is an accurate shooter, connecting on 22-of-53 3-pointers on the season, but attempted more than four treys in a game just four times this season. Hollins' play is giving the Gophers some firepower off the bench. He made two 3-pointers and scored eight points in Minnesota's win over Nebraska on Feb. 5. The 2011 Tennessee Mr. Basketball started the first 10 games of the season before settling into his new role.

"He was outstanding tonight," Smith said of Hollins. "He's the reason we got back in the ball game and he's very capable of it. He'll have to see a lot more time."

--Junior forward Rodney Williams must start contributing more on the glass if the Gophers want to make a run at an NCAA Tournament at-large bid. Williams became a key cog after the season-ending injury to rebounding machine Trevor Mbakwe, but has struggled of late on the boards. The 6-foot-7, 205-pounder had a stretch in the middle of the season with eight games of at least six boards in a 10-game stretch culminating with a 12-rebound game against Iowa on Jan. 4 and a 14-rebound performance against Purdue four days later. Williams played 40 minutes in Minnesota's overtime defeat to Wisconsin on Feb. 9, finishing with 16 points but just two boards. Williams hasn't tallied more than four rebounds for six straight games, with his 16 points against the Badgers ending a three-game skid of not scoring more than nine points.

--Redshirt freshman C Elliott Eliason, a two-time Nebraska prep Player of the Year, played his first college game in his home state Feb. 5 and had six points and four rebounds off the bench in Minnesota's win; a victory fueled by 40 points from the bench.


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