Defense Key to Molinari's Success

When the Gophers play defense as interim coach Jim Molinari preaches, they can have success (see: Purdue). Or they can be blown out by Wisconsin when the defense isn't there.

When Jim Molinari was the boss at Northern Illinois and Bradley, he was renowned for his ability to teach defense and force his teams to play it.

When Dan Monson hired Molinari to be a Minnesota assistant prior to the 2004-05 season, it was Molinari's job to fix the Gophers' leaky defense. That worked well enough that Minnesota transformed into an NCAA tournament team.

Therefore, it's no surprise Molinari, as the Gophers' interim coach, has chosen to seize upon defense as his team's identity.

When Minnesota does it right, such as when it pulled off the Big Ten opening night surprise over Purdue, it can be a thing of beauty. As the Gophers rallied down the stretch to beat the Boilers 65-59, they limited Purdue to one shot virtually every time down the floor. Minnesota held Purdue to 36 percent shooting from the field and 18 percent from 3-point range.

But when Minnesota doesn't do it right, it can lead to ugly defeats.

At Wisconsin on Saturday, the Gophers were smoked 68-45 as the Badgers went on a first-half spree that eliminated all thoughts of winning.

"We kind of lost our identity. We played soft," Molinari said afterward. "If we would've competed a little harder defensively in the first half, at least we could have maybe stayed in the game a little bit."

NOTES

  • It's a good thing Minnesota prefers to hang its hat on defense, because there's no basis for the Gophers to believe they're something special on offense.

    The Gophers rank next to last among Big Ten teams in points (64.6 ppg), next to last in rebounding margin (minus -3.4 per game), next to last in free-throw percentage (64.9) and near the bottom in field-goal percentage (45.0).

  • Sophomore Jamal Abu-Shamala has become an important factor since returning to the starting lineup late in December. In last week's win over Purdue, Abu-Shamala scored most of his 14 points down the stretch as he hit 5 of 6 shots from the field and three of four from 3-point range. He added five rebounds and three assists without a turnover.

    He was the team's best offensive threat in the Dec. 22 loss at UNLV. Abu-Shamala hit four of five shots from 3-point range to account for his 12 points.

    QUOTE TO NOTE: "Their toughness level was higher than ours. Way higher than ours in the first half." — Minnesota coach Jim Molinari told the Minneapolis Star Tribune after Saturday's 68-45 loss at Wisconsin.


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