Gophers Head to Big Ten Tourney on High Note

Senior center Ralph Sampson III waved to the crowd as he left his home floor for the final time late in the Gophers' March 3 win over Nebraska. What Sampson isn't willing to wave good-bye to just yet? The season.

"We still have that feeling here about making that run, so we know exactly what we need to do, we know exactly how to execute it," he said.

The Gophers ended a six-game losing streak when they beat Nebraska, and go into the Big Ten tournament as a No. 10 seed, facing No. 7 Northwestern, a team that has a more-legitimate chance of going to the NCAA Tournament, in the first round in Indianapolis.

The winner gets second-seeded and 13th-ranked Michigan in the quarterfinals.

Clearly, the odds are long for the stumbling Gophers to do anything significant in a tournament they really have to win to go dancing. They go in with a 1-1 season record against Northwestern, with each team winning on its home floor, Northwestern's win coming just back on Feb. 18.

That was the third game of the six-game streak that Minnesota (18-13), an apparent NIT team, was able to snap before going to Indianapolis.

"It was definitely a lot different than the past six games," forward Rodney Williams said. "Getting this last one in at home, everybody's down there, they're happy, music playing. We're looking to ride this one to the Big Ten tournament."


Gophers score conference high against Huskers

--The 81 points the Gophers scored against Nebraska were a Big Ten season high for them. They had 80 in a win at Penn State on Jan. 15. It was also the first time they scored 70 or more in seven games.

--Minnesota went 1-1 the final week of the regular season to finish at 18-13 before heading to the Big Ten Tournament in Indianapolis. The Gophers lost at No. 14 Wisconsin, making it three losses in three games against ranked teams, but then beat Nebraska in the finale.

--The Gophers were swept in two games against Wisconsin, but then completed a sweep of the two-game set against Nebraska.

--While Minnesota split two games with first-round opponent Northwestern, the Gophers dropped the only game of the season against Michigan, which it would meet in the second round with a win over Northwestern. The Gophers dropped a tough 61-56 decision at Michigan on Jan. 1.

BY THE NUMBERS: 23/12 -- Minnesota's assist-to-turnover ratio in the win over Nebraska on March 3.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "I think the team pulled together well and we played a good game and came out with a win, so you can't ask for anything more." -- Center Ralph Sampson III on Senior Day at Williams Arena.



--vs. Northwestern, Big Ten Tournament, March 8

KEY MATCHUPS: Then teams split a pair of games this season, each winning on its home floor. But this third matchup is a big one for Northwestern, an NCAA Tournament bubble team that needs at least one win in Indianapolis before facing No. 13 Michigan in the second round.

Senior forward John Shurna broke Northwestern's all-time career scoring record in the Wildcats' win over Minnesota on Feb. 18. He comes into the tournament averaging 19.8 points and 5.3 rebounds per game. That scoring average is tops in the Big Ten.

FUTURES MARKET: Sophomore G Chip Armelin had a career game in the regular season finale, scoring a career-high 20 points and grabbing seven rebounds in the win over Nebraska.

For the season, the game pushed Armelin to just 6.0 points and 2.3 rebounds per game, but it provided some evidence he can contribute in the future.

He and junior forward Rodney Williams combined for 36 points and 15 rebounds, and gave the Gophers big baskets when needed.

"We haven't had that happen for us," said coach Tubby Smith. "And that's what we need. When the team is not playing well, we need somebody to say: 'Hey, my shots go in, I'm concentrating, I'm focused, I'm ready. Here I am, Coach -- play me.' "


--Senior C Ralph Sampson III left the Williams Arena floor with a wave to the crowd and then to a hug from coach Tubby Smith after scoring 12 points and adding five rebounds, four assists and two blocked shots in his final home game.

As far as the pre-game ceremony, Sampson said, "I was trying not to get too excited. I didn't want to go out for the first few minutes and then have to go sit down again because I'm having an asthma attack because I'm too geeked up."

--Injured senior F Trevor Mbakwe was honored before the Senior Day game and also got the "sixth man of the game" award for the game itself.

--Junior F Rodney Williams had 16 points and eight rebounds in the finale and led the team's active players in both scoring (10.9) and rebounding (5.5). Mbakwe was at 14.0 and 9.1 when he went down.

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