Remember, this was a team that finished in a last-place tie with Penn State a year ago in the Big Ten ... and not much more was expected in 2004-05.
In fact, when Kris Humphries left for the NBA, preseason magazines seemed quite justified in picking the Gophers to finish anywhere between 8th and 11th in the Big Ten.
But Dan Monson had other ideas — particularly when junior college transfer Vincent Grier joined the team. With the help of Grier, former BC player Dan Coleman and power rebounder J'Son Stamper, Minnesota has become a very tough and physical team that has climbed into the Big Ten's upper half.
Their surprising season was threatening to come apart at the seams, however, when they dropped an 81-62 decision at Michigan State Feb. 16. That loss was the Gophers' third in a row and they desperately needed a win against Ohio State Feb. 19.
It wasn't easy or pretty — in fact, Monson said it was downright ugly — but Minnesota pulled off a 52-50 victory. Grier had 14 points and four assists while Stamper tipped in a missed shot with 35 seconds to go and came up with two late rebounds to clinch the victory.
"It was a poster game for our slogan of getting a game ugly," Monson said. "But for us, it was really pretty. We are never going to outscore teams, but we can beat people if we continue to grind it out defensively."
Minnesota has three regular-season games left against Iowa, Purdue and Penn State. The Gophers should be able to win all three. Even if they drop one, they should have the credentials to earn an invitation to the NCAA tournament — something not even the most diehard Big Ten fan thought was possible.
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'm not really sure what happened. I was right there under the basket and put it in." — Power forward J'Son Stamper on the game-winning basket he scored with 34.9 seconds to play in the 52-50 victory over Ohio State.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
UPCOMING GAMES: vs. Iowa, Feb. 23; at Purdue, Feb. 26
KEYS: The Gophers came up with a huge win vs. Ohio State Feb. 19 and have a chance to finish the season on a winning streak. While the game with the Hawkeyes should be a war, the Gophers have done quite well this year when the game turns "ugly." Purdue can still rise up and play a solid game every so often, but Gene Keady's team lacks consistency.
ROSTER REPORT: Guard-forward Vincent Grier scored 14 points and had four assists in the win over Ohio State. Grier leads the Gophers with an average of 17.7 ppg and is shooting 47.3 percent for the season.