Early Motivation Disappears Quickly

Tubby Smith tried to motivate his team to an important win on Wednesday, but the Gophers weren't sharp enough shooters to overcome Purdue.

Just before Minnesota faced Purdue, Tubby Smith sat on the baseline as his team went through warmups. Smith, however, usually doesn't appear until just before the start of a game.

But this time, he wanted to be there to motivate his team before what ultimately became another loss.

As the Gophers shot layups and jumpers, Smith was right there critiquing and energizing them. They seemingly weren't energized for long.

Minnesota shot 35.8 percent in the game and scored just 27 points in the second half (26 in the first).

During the postgame press conference, as the coach who has always seemed to have the answers throughout his career didn't have many, it became even more clear how limited this team is.

Minnesota's letdowns have translated into scuffles with opposing players, internal jabbering during moments of confusion and more gray for Smith.

MINNESOTA 53, PURDUE 65: Purdue's Keaton Grant hit a 30-foot jumper as time expired in the first half. Although the shot only gave Purdue a three-point advantage, it gave them a lot of momentum that carried over into the second half. They stormed out of the locker room with a 13-3 run and weren't in any danger throughout the half.

Minnesota had its chances. They closed a 10-point gap in the first half, but they didn't play with the same intensity in the second half. Tubby Smith said the team didn't handle the pressure on the road. And as a result, they left Mackey Arena without a signature win.

NOTES

  • G Al Nolen has been the starter at point guard over the last three games. And the switch worked well for the Gophers until their road game at Purdue on Wednesday. The freshman had five turnovers and only one assist.

  • G Lawrence McKenzie is key to Minnesota's gameplan. When he's on, the team's on. When he got into foul trouble at Purdue, the team didn't respond well. It also needed more than two 3-pointers from the senior.

  • The Gophers will host Senior Night for their three seniors when the team plays Ohio State at home March 1. The game is not only important because of the pregame ceremony for the three veterans. But Minnesota can seize fifth place in the Big Ten with a win and earn a first-round bye in the Big Ten Tournament.

  • G Lawrence Westbrook is barely six-feet tall. But he plays with a big heart. Against Penn State Feb. 24, he found himself matched up against 6-foot-6 F David Jackson. He held his own and scored 15 points during that game. He's averaging eight points and 3.2 rebounds per game and proving that even though Tubby Smith is bringing in a group of bigger guards next season, he's ready to lead the way in the coming years.

  • Minnesota is shooting less than 45 percent from the field. That's a decent percentage for a team with not much of a post presence. Their problem all season has been, however, that they have a tendency to start too slowly and not shoot well until the second half of games. A slow start hurt the Gophers again Wednesday, when shots weren't falling and they managed 26 first-half points and dug a big hole.

  • G Blake Hoffarber is no longer an anonymous player in the Big Ten. His 3-point shooting prowess (46.4 percent) has made him one of the more feared perimeter players in the league. But that means teams are focusing on him when he's in the game. The freshman has still managed to average nine points per game, although his numbers have been down since conference play began.

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

    IN FOCUS: If the Gophers have any chance to become a "bubble team" for anything beyond the CBI or NIT, they must win out, and Assembly Hall — in Bloomington and Champaign — isn't kind to visitors.

    QUOTE TO NOTE: "We did what we had to do to win the ballgame. Even though it wasn't pretty." — Tubby Smith after a 75-68 win over Penn State Feb. 24.

    GAME REVIEW

    Wisconsin 65, Minnesota 56

    Minnesota 69, Michigan 60

    Minnesota 75, Iowa 68

    Purdue 65, Minnesota 53

    GAME PREVIEW:

    vs. Ohio State, Saturday, March 1.

    at Indiana, Wednesday, March 5.

    at Illinois, Saturday, March 8.


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