Just last week, Minnesota fell by nine points at Illinois, after the Illini had beaten them by 24 points at Williams Arena in Minneapolis. But this is a different setting.
Illinois is coming off a win over Purdue, while Minnesota brings in a lot of momentum after its win over Indiana. And both teams won in down-to-the-wire contests.
Minnesota can keep its faint NCAA tourney hopes alive with a win over Illinois. But they'll have to rebound. The last time the two teams faced each other the Illini outrebounded the Gophers 45 to 19.
Tubby Smith put the Gophers in shoulder pads and football helmets in their first practice after last week's Illinois loss to teach the team a lesson about toughness. They responded with one of their gutsiest performances of the year against Indiana.
MINNESOTA 59, INDIANA 58: Travis Bush threw a 75-foot pass to Blake Hoffarber who turned around and hit a shot with 1.5 seconds left. The former ESPY award winner repeated the antics that earned him the honor — he hit a shot from the seat of his pants in high school to send him team into overtime during the state playoffs in 2005.
Hoffarber's shot concluded a series of incredulous events. D.J. White was fouled twice and shot four free throws in the game's final 10 seconds. He only hit one, but it was enough to give Indiana a 58-57 lead, as thousands of Hoosiers fans that'd traveled to the Conseco Fieldhouse in Indianapolis from Bloomington, Ind., cheered them on.
Their victory seemed almost a given, based on their two wins against Minnesota earlier this season. But Minnesota stepped up to shockingly steal a 59-58 victory. The win puts them in the middle of a hotly debated NCAA tourney bubble conversation.
IN FOCUS: Lawrence Westbrook and Lawrence McKenzie are difficult matchups for some teams. But the bigger issue, pun intended, is Minnesota's beef against Illinois. If the Gophers can exploit mismatches inside and get the penetrate-and-kick offense to work against a smothering Illini defense, a championship appearance isn't out of the question.
PLAYER ROTATION: Usual Starters — F Dan Coleman, C Spencer Tollackson, G Lawrence Westbrook, G Lawrence McKenzie, G Kevin Payton. Key Subs — G Blake Hoffarber; F Damian Johnson.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "When Blake Hoffarber is your leading scorer, you've got issues." — Minnesota head coach Tubby Smith said after his team lost its 19th straight game against Illinois. The Illini grabbed 45 rebounds compared to Minnesota's 19.
Illinois 67, Minnesota 58
Minnesota 55, Northwestern 52 (Big Ten tournament first round)
Minnesota 59, Indiana 58 (Big Ten tournament quarterfinal)
vs. Illinois, Saturday, March 15 (Big Ten tournament semifinal)