Hawkeyes Know How to Hang Tight

They are by no means explosive, but the Iowa Hawkeyes, the Gophers' next opponent on Saturday, know how to keep it tight and pull off upsets.

When Iowa comes to Williams Arena, they'll bring the league's worst scoring offense. But somehow, the Hawkeyes still hang with the best in the conference.

How? They have the Big Ten's second-best scoring defense.

That combination of an obsolete offense and dangerous defense has fooled Michigan State and Ohio State into low-scoring affairs that ended up wins for Iowa. The Hawkeyes almost worked the same formula for an upset of Wisconsin on Wednesday.

Minnesota won't mind a game where every shot counts. That will demand efficiency from a Gophers squad that was still recovering from a home loss against Wisconsin before a 20-point win against Northwestern.

If Minnesota can start out with a quick offensive pace and get shots to fall early in the game, there's no reason that Minnesota can't come out victorious and keep its slim hopes of playing in its first NCAA tourney since 2005. But if the Gophers fire blanks in the first half, they're in trouble. Should the second half become a game of confidence, the Hawkeyes have shown they gain it as the game goes along.

Tubby Smith has tried everything to help the Gophers obtain a championship swagger, after going 9-22 last season. He brought in the Tuskeegee Airman to talk to his players. He's had one-on-one meetings meant to encourage players to achieve their own goals. And most recently, he let players scrimmage earlier this week, so they could regain a winning feeling after losing four out of five games.

But there's not much the coach can do about a team that seems to lose hope midway through an opponent's run. Their best chance to prove that they can play through adversity comes against Iowa.

MINNESOTA 92, NORTHWESTERN 72: After Northwestern went up 18-16 early in the game — its last lead of the game — Minnesota finished the half with a 28-15 run and ended the half with a 47-33 advantage. The Gophers won the game by 20 and set a season-best scoring mark.

Northwestern's infamous zone defense was effective. They forced 15 turnovers overall, including five in the first half. But Minnesota pounded the ball inside to center Spencer Tollackson, who finished with 19 points, including five free throws. Minnesota also knocked down 12 3-pointers.

Minnesota's Jamal Abu-Shamala scored 10 quick points in the last five minutes of the first half, including a 3-pointer from the corner to put the Gophers up by 11 points.

That first half run sealed the deal for Minnesota. Northwestern's Kevin Coble did everything in his power to keep Northwestern's hopes of winning alive. But his 22 points weren't enough.

NOTES

  • G Lawrence McKenzie did not start against Northwestern because he missed a study hall, according to head coach Tubby Smith. Smith said the matter was "over and done with" after McKenzie was penalized and said "four or five" players were involved but may have been confused about the time.

  • G Blake Hoffarber made his first career start against Northwestern and scored 15 points, including four threes. He said he's dreamed of starting for the Gophers since he was a little kid growing up Hopkins, Minn. It's surprising that Hoffarber got the start since he'd only played 19 minutes in the team's last two games combined.

  • C Spencer Tollackson missed all seven of his free-throw attempts in a tight 65-60 home loss against Indiana Jan. 17 that wasn't decided until the final minutes. Since that performance, Tollackson stopped bouncing the ball before he attempts his free throws, based on Tubby Smith's advice — or demand. Since making the change, he's hit 11 out of 15, including every free throw in his last two games.

  • Lawrence McKenzie said he has to step up to give the Gophers a confidence boost. He said he hopes his team feeds off his energy. Smith backed up McKenzie when he said that the senior point guard would be selfish if he did not take open shots and play his role as one of a few players who can create his own shots. That's why his four shot attempts against Wisconsin Feb. 3 were so puzzling. McKenzie said his right hand, his shooting hand, still bothers him. He bruised the right hand earlier this season, and he said it continues to bother him every game. That might be the reason why his production was down against Wisconsin Feb. 3.

  • G Lawrence Westbrook, the nation's top scorer as a prep when he was at Chandler High School in Arizona, has scored 26 points in the team's last two games. And he's done it with a heavily taped right hand.

    PLAYER ROTATION: Usual Starters — F Dan Coleman, C Spencer Tollackson, F Damian Johnson, G Lawrence Westbrook, G Lawrence McKenzie. Key Subs — G Al Nolen, G Blake Hoffarber.

    QUOTE TO NOTE: "They find ways to make plays because we're waiting for somebody else to do something." — Tubby Smith after a 63-47 loss to Wisconsin Feb. 3.

    GAME REVIEW:

    Minnesota 60, Ohio State 76

    Minnesota 77, Michigan 65

    Minnesota 47, Wisconsin 63

    Minnesota 92, Northwestern 72

    GAME PREVIEW:

    vs. Iowa, Saturday, Feb. 9.

    vs. Illinois, Tuesday, Feb. 12.

    at Wisconsin, Saturday, Feb. 16

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