ISU ‘D' Forces Gophers To Think About Future

With Iowa State's smothering defense putting an end to Minnesota's overachieving men's basketball season, the Gophers are left to look toward next season — this time with some optimism.

The Golden Gophers exceeded all expectations by earning a spot in the NCAA tournament.

They were quickly dispatched by Iowa State in the first round. The Cyclones simply threw too much defense against Minnesota in their 64-53 victory.

The Cyclones contested every shot, and Minnesota ended up making just 21-of-63 shots. Leading scorer Vincent Grier ended up with 14 points, but he made just 7-of-21 shots from the field and the Gophers were unable to rally

Head coach Dan Monson knew the Gophers would likely have a hard time when the NCAA pairings were announced March 13.

"I saw those pairings and I thought it would be difficult for us," Monson explained. "They contest shots and they force turnovers. That's just what they did with us and they maintained control of the game."

Iowa State forced 17 turnovers and never let the Gophers get comfortable when it came to shooting from beyond the arc. Minnesota made just 5-of-23 three-point attempts.

Despite the loss and the end of the 2004-05 season, the Gophers are convinced that they have a bright future ahead of them.

"We've got a sour taste in our mouth right now; hopefully we can make a run in the tournament next season," Grier said.

"We know what we have to do, we know how hard we have to work. We're losing three great, emotional leaders in Little A (Aaron Robinson), Jeff (Hagen) and Brent (Lawson), but we've got to bounce back. We've got some young guys who've got to step up."

Monson is an experienced coach who understands that there are no guarantees that his team will respond with another solid year in 2005-06. However, he does like the talent he sees on hand.

"It's like anything else when you're trying to build, when you have something tangible to point to, it makes it a lot easier," Monson said. "It's nice to point to success instead of just talk about it. It certainly makes it easier to build. It's a good benchmark for this program.

"Now we have to, with a new group, bring them together and build from there."

The program that was in a quagmire a year ago is now moving in the right direction.

THE GOOD NEWS: A year ago, this team was on a par with Penn State at the bottom of the Big Ten. Prospects didn't appear to be any better for the 2004-05 season since their best player, Kris Humphries, opted for the NBA. Nevertheless, Minnesota started playing defense and Vincent Grier turned out to be an explosive scorer. Several key players from this 21-11 team return next season.

THE BAD NEWS: While the attitude is much better now than it has been, the Gophers will be depending on young players like Spencer Tollackson and Rico Tucker to keep the team on the right track in 2005-06. Both are unproven after their freshman seasons, but head coach Dan Monson is hopeful they can be key contributors.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "I think we left it better than when we entered it. I feel we helped turn the program around. I'm looking forward to watching these guys play. They're going to be fun to watch." — Center Jeff Hagen, who played his last game in a Gopher uniform in the 64-53 loss to Iowa State in the NCAA tournament.

KEY RETURNEES: Guard Vincent Grier is the best player on the team. He led the team with an average of 17.9 ppg and is also a fine defensive player. Grier was the key to the Gopher turnaround this season and is likely to be the center piece to next year's team. Dan Coleman did a nice job as a freshman starter, averaging 8.3 points and 3.8 rpg. However, Dan Monson needs him to make significant progress in both areas next season.

THE COACH: Dan Monson appeared to be a man teetering on the edge at the end of last season. However, while the cupboard did not appear to be overly plentiful, the Gophers played way above expectations this year and finished with a 21-11 record. If Bruce Weber had not had such a magical year with the Illini, Monson likely would have been the Big Ten coach of the year.

ROSTER REPORT: The Gophers gambled and won when they plucked Grier from the junior college ranks last year. A very creative player on the offensive end, he also made a name for himself with his fine defensive play. He cemented that reputation this season in the Big Ten.

  • Forward J'Son Stamper had several good games for Gophers this season and Monson needs him to become more consistent. Stamper averaged 4.8 rebounds per game and he needs to step it up even more next year.

  • Center Spencer Tollackson is a 275-pound bruiser. If he can improve his offensive output a bit — he averaged 3.2 ppg in 2004-05 — Minnesota could be a tough place to play in the Big Ten.

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