Last chance to dig out

The Gophers have a chance to not be the sole bottom-feeders in the Big Ten with a win Saturday against Penn State. But they may have to do it without their star forward.

The Gophers have a chance to escape the cellar with a win over Penn State in the final week of the Big Ten regular season.

Well, not escape the basement completely — just have some company in it.

If Minnesota beats Penn State and the Nittany Lions also lose at Ohio State, both teams will have 3-13 conference records.

The only thing that it will bring is just a tad of pride to the Gophers. There is no other tangible reward to finishing out of the cellar, since all Big Ten teams make the postseason conference tournament.

The Gophers might have to win their showdown at Penn State without star Kris Humphries. The freshman forward has been bothered by a sore ankle tendon for several weeks, and the discomfort level reached the point last week that he had to sit against Iowa.

His absence hurt the Gophers' offensive prowess, but they did a better job on the defensive end, holding the Hawkeyes to 24-of-54 from the field. That defensive effort — very much out of character for a team that has struggled on that end of the court throughout the season — parlayed big dividends in the final 10 minutes of the game.

Iowa led by 19 with 10 minutes to go, but the Gophers held the Hawkeyes without a field goal for more than seven minutes and climbed to within three points in the game's final moments. While Iowa came back and put the game away, it was a moment for the Gophers to remember and help them improve.

Despite losing at Iowa on Feb. 27, Minnesota leads the all-time series 92-84.

— The Gophers are allowing 73.0 ppg — last in the Big Ten.

— The absence of Kris Humphries from the starting lineup took its toll at the free-throw line. The Gophers had just 12 free throws at Iowa without him — the same number that Humphries had in the Feb. 24 loss to Ohio State.

PROBABLE LINEUP: Forward Kris Humphries, forward Stan Gaines, center Jeff Hagen, guard Ben Johnson, guard Adam Boone.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "It's kind of been our season a little bit. We battled but we didn't get it done. It's kind of a broken record, but I was pleased with the effort. It was an easy game when you're down 16 or 18 to just let it go when you're not playing for as much as the other team is." — Minnesota head coach Dan Monson on the effort his team put forth in their 66-62 loss at Iowa Feb. 27.

UPCOMING GAMES: vs. Penn State, March 6

KEYS: The Gophers will try to make some room in the Big Ten basement for the Nittany Lions. Penn State will join Minnesota in last place if the Nittany Lions lose to Ohio State and to Minnesota. If Kris Humphries (ankle tendon) returns to the lineup, the Gophers will be a much more dangerous offensive team, capable of the win.

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