Even with the Gophers being significantly improved this season, a miracle upset on the road against top-ranked and undefeated Illinois was too much to ask.
But coach Dan Monson was hoping for an intense effort that would let Illinois know it was in a fight for at least 20 minutes and possibly more.
Monson did not get it. With Illinois revved up as it celebrated 100 years of basketball and feted several former stars, the Gophers were overwhelmed 89-66.
After Spencer Tollackson hit a layup with 8:52 left in the first half to draw Minnesota within 29-19, the Illini pulled away and were never challenged after that. Illinois used its quickness and skill at the guard position to turn the game into an extended practice session.
Monson was very impressed with the Illini but he thought his team could have put more into it.
"Obviously they're a great team, and seeing it firsthand makes you more of a believer," Monson said. "But I was disappointed in our fight defensively. We really were reactive to start the game. We created a monster with our defense."
Monson's players seemed like they were in awe of the Illini.
"To see in person really how unselfish they are, I have another whole level of respect for them," forward Brent Lawson said. "Even if you play well on offense, every little mistake you make on the defensive end, they're going to take advantage of."
The performance against Illinois came on the heels of a very impressive home win over Indiana.
— Minnesota averages 5.3 blocked shots per game, ranking second in the Big Ten.
— Even though the Gophers made just 24-of-63 FG attempts against Illinois on Jan. 26, they are shooting 48.2 percent from the field. That figure ranks third in the Big Ten.
— The Gophers are very active defensively — recording 10.2 steals per game. That ranks first in the Big Ten.
PROBABLE LINEUP: Point guard Brent Lawson, shooting guard Aaron Robinson, center Jeff Hagen, power forward Dan Coleman, guard-forward Vincent Grier.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "We got down early, and we were never able to sustain anything. They just play good ball." — Guard Aaron Robinson after Minnesota absorbed an 89-66 loss at Illinois Jan. 29.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
UPCOMING GAMES: at Michigan, Feb. 2; vs. Wisconsin, Feb. 5
KEYS: The Gophers played like they were in awe of Illinois in their Jan. 29 loss at Champaign. Dan Monson has to get his team to put the loss in the past if it is going to have a shot at Ann Arbor. Michigan is coming off a humiliating defeat to Purdue and will want to take out its frustrations against Minnesota. The Gophers would need to play a near-perfect game to have a shot against physical Wisconsin.
ROSTER REPORT: Guard-forward Vincent Grier scored 17 points in the Jan. 29 loss at Illinois and he leads the Gophers with an average of 16.5 ppg. He is shooting 47.2 percent from the field.
— Freshman guard Rico Tucker is averaging 8.2 ppg off the bench and shooting 42.1 percent from the field.
— Center Jeff Hagen is averaging 11.8 ppg and shooting 57.5 percent from the field. He is also pulling down 5.1 rebounds per game.
Gophers Hope To Learn Lessons From Illini Loss
Gopher Illustrated Top Stories
Game Preview: Minnesota vs. Penn StateGopherIllustrated's Ryan Burns previews the Minnesota vs. Penn State game this Saturday as the Gophers try and start their Big Ten season on the right foot.
Gopher IllustratedYesterday at 6:35 AM
Gopher Gridiron Radio 9.29.16Luke and Ryan discuss the Gophers upcoming tilt in Happy Valley with the Nittany Lions.
Gopher IllustratedThursday at 8:27 PM
4-star Green has Minnesota RootsMinnesota’s most recent offer went to 2018 guard A.J. Green of Cedar Falls, Iowa. Green is ranked as the 87th best prospect in the country and last weekend visited Minnesota…
Gopher IllustratedWednesday at 9:51 AM
Know Your Enemy: Penn StatePenn State publisher Mark Brennan of FightOnState.com breaks down the Penn State Nittany Lions, the Gophers week 5 opponent.
Gopher IllustratedWednesday at 6:54 AM