Comeback Win Could Propel Gophers Into NCAAs

Last year, the Gophers were thought of as a soft basketball team. This year, the story is quite different as the Big Ten's last-place team from 2003-2004 is fighting for an NCAA tournament bid in 2005.

A season with double-digit wins in the Big Ten? For the Gophers?

No joke. With a win at Penn State in the Big Ten regular-season finale, the Gophers will finish with a 10-6 conference record.

Last year's team tied for last in the Big Ten with a 3-13 mark.

While some critics may argue that their non-conference schedule was soft, the Gophers appear to be on the verge of an appearance in the NCAA tournament. They bring a 19-9 record into the regular-season finale and an RPI ranking of 47.

The Gophers registered a 59-57 win over Purdue in Gene Keady's last home game Feb. 26, but they appeared to be well on their way to a painful and potentially devastating defeat with 14 minutes remaining. They were trailing the Boilermakers by 15 points and didn't appear to have a clue as to how to get back in the game.

But then the game turned around. The Gophers turned it on and started getting rebounds, loose balls and forcing Purdue mistakes. Vincent Grier turned Purdue turnovers into easy baskets, Aaron Robinson started making three-pointers and the Gophers put together a string of defensive stops.

"This was a big game for us," coach Dan Monson said.

"It wasn't pretty; it was like a lot of our games this year. I thought our guys showed a lot of character and composure in a difficult environment until they finally were able to make some good things happen and get on track just in time."

That's just the opposite of the way the Gophers played in 2003-04. Their current attitude and no-quit demeanor may be just enough to get them into the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1999.

NOTES, QUOTES
  • Minnesota defeated Purdue 59-57 Feb. 26 — its second win at West Lafayette in its past seven tries.

  • The Gophers are allowing 62.9 ppg — a figure that ranks third in the Big Ten.

  • The Gophers need to do a better job of holding on to the ball. They turn the ball over 15.8 times per game — a figure that ranks last 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 hate to send him off with a loss, but that's the way the ball bounces. I didn't want to lose; somebody's got to lose." — Aaron Robinson after scoring 14 points in the Gophers come-from-behind win at Purdue Feb. 26. The victory came at the expense of Purdue head coach Gene Keady in his final game at Mackey Arena.

    STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
    UPCOMING GAMES: at Penn State, March 2

    KEYS: The Gophers make more than their share of mistakes, but they play tough in the clutch and come through when the game is on the line. If they keep up their intensity against the last-place Nittany Lions, the Gophers will record their 20th win of the season and should have a great chance at securing a slot in the NCAA tournament.

    ROSTER REPORT: Guard-forward Vincent Grier scored 15 points in the 59-57 win at Purdue Feb. 26 and is averaging a team-high 17.6 ppg.

  • Forward J'son Stamper is giving the Gophers a solid contribution off the bench with 5.3 points and 4.8 rebounds in just over 17 minutes per game.

  • Center Jeff Hagen is second on the team in scoring with an 11.6 ppg mark. He is connecting on 54.1 percent of his shots



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