It was a strange week for the Gophers, who split games with Penn State and Princeton and did it in very dissimilar fashion.
The Gophers thought they would have an easy time in a visit to Happy Valley. Oh, Dan Monson and his players said all the right things prior to the game about respecting their opponent, but this was the same Penn State team that went 7-21 a year ago and finished last in the conference with a 2-14 record.
But defense has been a problem for the Gophers throughout the Monson era, and the Gophers ended up on the short end of a 75-72 score.
Painful, yes. Disastrous, no. In their next game, the Gophers lined up against Princeton — a rare non-conference game after the Big Ten season has begun — and played a great defensive game in registering a 57-53 victory.
Minnesota played extremely hard on the defensive end and also played with intelligence. Since Princeton still looks for backdoor layups as a staple of its offense, the Gophers clogged the passing lanes and kept sagging to prevent easy shots. After giving up two layups in the first five minutes, Princeton couldn't get one the rest of the game.
"I guess it's baby steps," Monson said.
"We're not just going to play hard and work hard and get better and have everything be perfect in one game or one day. But I'm really proud of our guys scrapping out a win. That's the most important thing, to get yourself on track."
There's little doubt that Minnesota is still a team that thinks offense first and would love to run consistently, but the Gophers showed for one game that they can play a little defense. If they can do that on a regular basis, they could be an interesting team to watch this season.
Minnesota, which wants to get into a running game and play fastbreak basketball, leads the Big Ten in scoring with 78.8 points per game.
— The Gophers are connecting on 33.9 percent of their shots from beyond the arc.
PROBABLE LINEUP: Forward Kris Humphries, forward Stan Gaines, guard Moe Hargrow, guard Ben Johnson, guard Adam Boone.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "We executed our defense and that's something that's been lacking. We've been giving up a lot of runs and there's been defensive issues. To go out there and set our minds on something and play defense is a terrific way to go into the heart of the Big Ten." — Minnesota center Jeff Hagen on the Gophers' defensive effort vs. Princeton, which scored just 53 points.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
UPCOMING GAMES: vs. Iowa, Jan. 13; at Ohio State, Jan. 17
KEYS: Iowa is coming off an embarrassing home loss to Northwestern and should be ready for a peak effort against the Gophers. If Minnesota can concentrate and play consistently on defense against Ohio State, it should be able to get a road win against what may be a very poor team.
Monson getting hope for defense
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