Gophers Entering Important Stretch

The Gophers will need to rebound from their upset loss at Northwestern as they enter an important Big Ten stretch of games.

Just when the Gophers were ready to silence any remaining critics with a huge win against Wisconsin, they went and fell apart for an embarrassing loss against Northwestern just 72 hours later.

It's not exactly the way they wanted to enter a big stretch with games against heavyweights Purdue, Illinois and Michigan State, but it's the situation Minnesota faces after missing 12 of its first 13 shots of the second half against Northwestern.

This week it's expected a bit of separation will occur in the muddled Big Ten, where five teams have two league losses. Three of those two-loss teams are the Gophers, Boilermakers and Illini.

In order to stay within range of Michigan State, which is unbeaten in the league, Minnesota can't afford another loss. Luckily, both Purdue (Jan. 22) and Illinois (Jan. 29) come to the Barn, with a road trip to Indiana on Jan. 25 wedged in between.

If the Gophers survive unscathed, they can head to East Lansing, Mich. on Feb. 4 for an important rematch with the Spartans, who won in Minneapolis rather easily on New Year's Eve.

NOTES

  • Minnesota won four of its first five league games for the first time since the 1981-82 season. It's just the fourth time Minnesota won four of its first five league games since the 1948-49 season.

  • Tubby Smith is 35-16 through his first 51 games. His .700 winning percentage after 50 games is the second highest in school history, behind only O.B. Cowles (1948-59), who won 37 of his first 50 games.

  • The Gophers' deep, usually balanced attack went ice cold against Northwestern. In a rare inept showing, Minnesota missed 12 of its first 13 shots in the second half. Chalk it up to bad timing, and not likely to happen again.

  • Lawrence Westbrook scored 29 points in the overtime win against Wisconsin, the most points for a Badger since Dan Coleman scored 29 on Dec. 12, 2006. Westbrook is the only scorer in double figures, averaging 13.3 points on a team where 10 players average at least five points.

  • Blake Hoffarber has connected on 30 of 76 3-pointers this season. Minnesota is 22-6 lifetime when Hoffarber makes more than one 3-pointer in a game.

  • Al Nolen had six turnovers against Northwestern, easily a season high. Prior to the game against the Wildcats, Nolen hadn't had one game with four turnovers and four games with three. All other games, Nolen turned it over twice or less.

    PLAYER ROTATION: Usual Starters — G Lawrence Westbrook, G Al Nolen, F Damian Johnson, F Ralph Sampson III, C Colton Iverson. Key Subs — G Blake Hoffarber, F Paul Carter, F Jamal Abu-Shamala, G/F Travis Busch, G Devoe Joseph, G Devron Bostick.

    IN FOCUS: The Gophers face Purdue in a battle of two-loss teams within league play. Neither wants to fall three games behind Michigan State in the loss column. The Boilers are healthy again and have won three straight after dropping consecutive games to Illinois and Penn State while battling injuries.

    QUOTE TO NOTE: "Things like that happen. It's kind of like, ‘Why do you find your wife?' Maybe she found me. Maybe it's just karma, I guess." — Tubby Smith, to the St. Paul Pioneer Press, explaining how he goes from a high-profile job like Kentucky to a rebuilding project like Minnesota.

    GAME REVIEW:
    Minnesota 79, Penn State 59
    Minnesota 78, Wisconsin 74 OT
    Northwestern 74, Minnesota 65

    GAME PREVIEW:
    vs. Purdue, Thursday, Jan. 22
    at Indiana, Sunday, Jan. 25
    vs. Illinois, Thursday, Jan. 29


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