Can Confidence Carry Gophers?

The Gophers built a bit of confidence by winning 10 of 13 in their nonconference schedule. They could need that extra edge as they enter Big Ten play.

The Gophers go into the Big Ten portion of the schedule with something they never had at any point in the last two seasons: Confidence.

Dan Monson and his team have gained at least a small modicum of that commodity after winning 10 of their first 13 games.

The Gophers open the Big Ten season with a Jan. 8 home game vs. Penn State. If the Gophers can win that game and their second game at home against Purdue, they will bring another key commodity — momentum — into their first conference road game Jan. 15 at Iowa.

Minnesota is playing much better defense than it did a year ago and a much smarter brand of team basketball as well. In their final warm-up before the start of the conference season, Minnesota overwhelmed Loyola-Marymount 93-67 with a very solid inside game.

In the win, Minnesota made 36 shots — and 28 of those came from 15 feet or closer. Jeff Hagen (10 points), Dan Coleman (14), Spencer Tollackson (12) and Brent Lawson (12) combined for more than half of the Gophers' points and they made a combined 20 of 31 shots. It was the first time this season all four players reached double figures in the same game.

"Our posts are getting better at sealing [defenders off] and our guards are getting better at figuring out when they can get it in there," Monson said. "That was a huge element of this game, we had to get it in there."

Minnesota is a team that has often fallen in love with their outside shooting. If they can continue to get it inside in the Big Ten, the Gophers may be able to surprise a few opponents during the conference season.

  • Minnesota is showing signs of becoming a very strong shooting team. Going into the Big Ten opener vs. Penn State on Jan. 8, the Gophers had shot better than 50 percent from beyond the arc for three straight games. They lead the Big Ten with a 42.3 three-point shooting percentage.

  • The Gophers are the top shooting team in the Big Ten. Going into their Jan. 8 game with Penn State, they were shooting 51.8 percent from the field.

  • Minnesota is also getting the job done on the boards, with a rebounding differential of plus-6.2 rebounds per game, second in the conference to Michigan State's plus-6.9.

    PROBABLE LINEUP: Point guard Brent Lawson, shooting guard Aaron Robinson, center Jeff Hagen, power forward Dan Coleman, guard-forward Vincent Grier.

    QUOTE TO NOTE: "I think we accomplished a lot of the things we wanted to in this preseason. Now is it enough? I don't know, we're going to go find out starting on Saturday." — Head coach Dan Monson as his team got ready for its Dec. 8 Big Ten opener vs. Penn State.

    UPCOMING GAMES: vs. Penn State, Jan. 8; vs. Purdue, Jan. 12

    KEYS: Minnesota has a good chance to start the Big Ten season with two straight wins before going on the road Jan. 15 at Iowa. If the Gophers can get the ball inside to their big people, they have the outside shooting to complement that part of the game.

    ROSTER REPORT: Guard-forward Vincent Grier is averaging 17.8 ppg — second in the conference to Indiana's Bracey Wright.

  • Freshman guard Rico Tucker is showing impressive defensive quickness. He is averaging 2.2 steals per game, which is second to Iowa's Pierre Pierce (2.5 steals per game).

  • Center Jeff Hagen has become a much more aggressive player this season .He is averaging 2.92 blocks per game, which is second to Iowa's Erek Hansen (3.92 bpg).

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