Gophers Look For Bounce Back at Home

Minnesota hopes to bounce back from their third loss in four games against top ten ranked Michigan State at home Saturday on a nationally-televised game. The Gophers need a big win to get back in the NCAA tournament picture.


What was already a difficult week ended in the toughest of losses for the Gophers on Sunday. And now it's up to coach Tubby Smith and his players to look ahead and put the bad times behind them. Minnesota (12-6, 3-3) dropped an 81-78 overtime decision at Indiana for its second consecutive loss in the Big Ten and the third defeat in the last four games. The loss also continued the Gophers' road woes. Minnesota fell to 2-6 away from home.

The Gophers have lost three straight on the road in the Big Ten. The first two came at the hands of league powers Purdue and Michigan State, but Minnesota was hoping to have better luck against a struggling Indiana team.

The disappointing outcome wiped out a big comeback for the Gophers, who trailed 59-44 with just under 14 minutes to play before rallying. Minnesota, which never led in regulation, tied the game on Devoe Joseph's 10-footer with 9.6 seconds left. Al Nolen then appeared to make a steal in the backcourt, but he stepped out of bounds and the ball went back to Indiana. Minnesota forced Indiana to miss as time wound down and the game went to overtime.

Minnesota took a 76-71 lead thanks to Joseph's two 3-pointers early in overtime, but Indiana scored the last eight points to end the Gophers' frustrating week. Joseph's 10-footer with 4.3 seconds left bounced off back of the rim.

Making matters even worse for the Gophers, a player they recruited played a big role in the loss. Verdell Jones scored 24 points and hit a 12-foot jumper with 32.8 seconds left to put the Hoosiers up for good.


--Sunday's loss to Indiana dropped coach Tubby Smith's record against the Hoosiers to 3-3 since coming to Minnesota. Smith is 11-5 against Indiana in his career.

--The loss snapped Minnesota's three-game winning streak against Indiana, which included a sweep of last season's series. The Gophers are only 18-25 against the Hoosiers away from Minneapolis.

ON THE SPOT: The best news for the Gophers is they're headed home, where they are 10-0 this season, including two wins in the conference. Minnesota plays two straight and three of its next five at Williams Arena. The Gophers are home against Michigan State, the best team in the league on Saturday, before playing a dangerous Northwestern team.

The Gophers gave the Spartans all they could handle before losing 60-53 at the Breslin Center on Jan. 13. Minnesota trailed by three with two minutes to play before Michigan State was finally able to put the game away. The Gophers have already beaten Ohio State at home. League powers Purdue and Wisconsin have yet to come into Williams Arena, so the Gophers have a shot at making up ground at home against the Big Ten's top teams.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "It took a lot out of us to come back and get in the game. Then we took the lead in overtime and I thought we did some good things." -- Coach Tubby Smith after the 81-78 overtime loss to Indiana on Sunday.


SEASON RECAP: Minnesota is among the NCAA statistical leaders in several categories, but defense is where it begins and ends with the Gophers. If it plays well at the defensive end of the floor, Minnesota has a chance to beat any team in the league. The Gophers lead the Big Ten in defensive field goal percentage (.383), blocked shots (115) and steals (189). Damian Johnson and Al Nolen are among the nation's leaders in steals. Opponents know they won't shoot a high field goal percentage against Minnesota, which makes every possession valuable. That's the way the Gophers like to play, and that style is especially effective at home. Minnesota is allowing just 59.7 points per game at Williams Arena under coach Tubby Smith in 46 games. Opponents have reached 70 points only 10 times in those 46 games.

PLAYER ROTATION: Usual Starters -- C Ralph Sampson III, F Damian Johnson, G Al Nolen, G Lawrence Westbrook, G Blake Hoffarber. Key Subs -- F Paul Carter, G Devoe Joseph, F Rodney Williams, C Colton Iverson


Minnesota 86, Iowa 74
Purdue 79, Minnesota 60
Minnesota 73, Ohio State 62
Michigan State 60, Minnesota 53
Indiana 81, Minnesota 78 (OT)
vs. Michigan State, Saturday, Jan. 23
vs. Northwestern, Tuesday, Jan. 26
at Ohio State, Sunday, Jan. 31
at Penn State, Saturday, Feb. 6
vs. Michigan, Thursday, Feb. 11

IN FOCUS: Ralph Sampson III is getting healthy at the right time after missing two games with a sprained right ankle. Playing 37 minutes Sunday, Sampson scored 17 points and had five rebounds; he leads the team in rebounding, averaging almost six a game. Sampson also made 11-of-15 at the foul line, an encouraging sign for someone who has struggled with his free throws at times this season. Even though he fouled out, the fact Sampson played so many minutes is a positive sign. He played 17 minutes against Ohio State in his first game back on Jan. 9 and 31 minutes against Michigan State on Jan. 13. The 6-foot-11 sophomore gives the Gophers an excellent inside scoring option as his 53 percent field goal percentage (46-of-87) will attest. Continued strong performances by Sampson will help the Gophers in their attempt to stay in upper part of the Big Ten.


--Blake Hoffarber, who went into Sunday averaging a career-high 11.8 points a game this season, was held to five on Sunday on 2-of-7 from the field. He's shooting 53 percent (70-of-133) from the field and 49.5 percent (50-of-101) on 3-pointers. Both are also career highs.

--Lawrence Westbrook scored seven points against Indiana, below his average of his team-leading and career-high 13.7 going into the game. He's 10 points away from 1,000 for his career. \

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