Big-time performers come through in big-time games.
That's the point that Minnesota head coach Dan Monson has been making to leading scorer Vincent Grier in recent weeks.
Monson did it with opponents like Wisconsin in mind. Minnesota beat the Badgers 60-50 on Feb. 5, and Grier led the way with a career-high 32 points. As good as the performance was, Grier was at his best in the second half when he scored 26 points. Grier had that great shooter's feel in the second half, and the hoop took on a different appearance.
"It (the rim) got as big as the ocean," Grier told the Minneapolis Star Tribune.
"When I make a couple, they've got to come up on me and they've got to pick their poison. They just let me get into a flow and when I do that, I'm going to succeed. I haven't had a flow like that in a while."
Beating Wisconsin culminated a great week for the much-improved Gophers. They took apart Michigan 71-54 (Feb. 2) and are now tied with the Badgers for third place in the Big Ten.
Monson's team is playing way above expectations. The Gophers were expected to be no better than eighth in the Big Ten this year.
But Grier's presence has given them tremendous confidence and the team has believed in itself since Day One. But a victory over the highly regarded Badgers brings them to a new place.
"It feels good, something we can put on the resume," center Jeff Hagen said. "People have said, 'They're a solid team, but they haven't beaten anyone.' "
The victory over the Badgers changes that perception. Minnesota will try to keep it going against Northwestern and Indiana this week.
— Minnesota has beaten Wisconsin in eight of its past 11 games at home.
— Minnesota made just 2-of-13 shots from beyond the arc in the Feb. 5 win vs. Wisconsin. The Gophers are hitting 38.5 percent of their three-pointers, good for fourth in the conference.
— The Gophers are contesting shots and coming up with significant blocks. They are rejecting 5.1 shots per game — a figure that ranks second 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: "I've been on him that, 'If this is going to be your team then you've got to be accountable in big games.' In our three losses in the league, he hasn't done some of the things he's capable of." — Minnesota head coach Dan Monson on the all-around play of Vincent Grier, who had his best game in the Feb. 5 win over Wisconsin.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
UPCOMING GAMES: vs. Northwestern, Feb. 9; vs. Indiana, Feb. 12
KEYS: The Gophers are rolling and should be able to handle Northwestern at home. The Wildcats can be tough and aggressive at home, but they rarely play consistently for 40 minutes on the road. The Hoosiers are fighting for a spot in the NCAA tournament, but they can't count on a road win here.
ROSTER REPORT: Guard-forward Vincent Grier scored 32 points in the Feb. 5 win over Wisconsin and is averaging a team-high 16.3 ppg.
— Freshman forward Dan Coleman is third on the team in scoring with an average of 9.1 ppg. He is shooting 43.9 percent from the field.
— Center Jeff Hagen is second on the team in scoring with an average of 12.0 ppg. He had seven points and eight rebounds in the Feb. 5 win over Wisconsin.
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