MSU Presents Tough Task for Gophers

The Gophers haven't had good memories of Michigan State, their opponent today in the Big Ten tourney.

Nothing about Michigan State drums up good memories for the Gophers. Twice this season, they faced Michigan State. And twice, they found out what the word elite truly means in the Big Ten.

In the first meeting, Michigan State outrebounded Minnesota 49-27 and pushed around the Gophers' newcomers on its way to an easy win. The second meeting took place in East Lansing Feb. 4. Nothing good came out of that one, either. The Spartans handed the Gophers their worst loss in years, a 76-47 drubbing.

It's only fair that Minnesota faces Michigan State for the third time this year Friday in the quarterfinals of the Big Ten tournament in Indianapolis. Minnesota will likely earn an NCAA Tournament bid without beating the Spartans.

A win, however, would silence all critics of Minnesota's resume.

Still, nothing suggests that Michigan State won't do to Minnesota what it did earlier this season.

MINNESOTA 66, NORTHWESTERN 53: Minnesota held off a late run by Northwestern to seize a win that probably secured the school's first NCAA Tournament bid since 2005. The Wildcats stormed back to take a 49-47 lead late in the second half, but the Gophers hit 10 of their last 12 free throws to regain the momentum and take home the victory.

NOTES

  • Under Tubby Smith, the Gophers are 25-2 when leading entering the final five minutes of a game.

  • Under Smith, the Gophers are 26-3 when they attempt more free throws than their opponent.

  • Everyone recalls Blake Hoffabrber's last-second heroics in the 2008 Big Ten tournament. The Gophers are looking for more scoring from the frontcourt this time around. That means Damian Johnson and Ralph Sampson must bear more of the offensive burden.

  • Devron Bostick, last year's national junior college player of the year, scored 11 points in Minnesota's crucial win over Northwestern Thursday. Minnesota coach Tubby Smith apologized to Bostick recently for not using him more in recent games. Smith said he was so focused on some of Bostick's defensive lapses that he forgot how good he could be on offense.

  • In his first start in three games, point guard Al Nolen collected six points, one assist, one steal and one rebound. His best stat of the night: zero turnovers. The sophomore guard has lost some confidence because of ballhandling troubles in recent weeks. But he bounced back with a solid outing Thursday.

  • Lawrence Westbrook picked up a technical foul for jawing at Northwestern's Craig Moore Thursday. Both players were disciplined. Westbrook had a lot of emotional exchanges with his own teammates, too. On one play, Bostick was out of position and Westbrook yelled at him for it. Westbrook has to learn than some players can handle that, but others will shut down.

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

    IN FOCUS: Managing Michigan State's malicious work on the glass is a key for Minnesota, which has size that doesn't always equate to rebounding effectiveness. If the Spartans get second-chance points, the Gophers, who have to maximize every offensive possession to beat MSU, would be in trouble.

    GAME REVIEW:
    Illinois 52, Minnesota 41
    Minnesota 51, Wisconsin 46
    Michigan 67, Minnesota 64
    Minnesota 66, Northwestern 53 (Big Ten tournament quarterfinal)

    GAME PREVIEW:
    vs. Michigan State, Friday, March 13 (Big Ten tournament semifinal)


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