With the Gophers playing their first game after finals and Santa Clara playing another in a grueling string of road games, last nights poor shooting, occasionally sloppy, and rarely feisty game by both the Gophers and the Broncos was not unexpected. It was also a game ripe for an upset, but the exhaustion of Santa Clara and the defense of the Gophers led to a 68-50 victory.

Almost everything felt a bit off last night. The students had all gone home for the holidays, which I have never fully understood. One would think there would be enough “U” students within an hour drive who care a little bit about the basketball team. Regardless, they weren’t there, neither were the Gorilla’s, and neither was Santa, who was either at the North Pole preparing for tomorrow night, or he was entertaining children at a mall near you. Luckily, the cast of “The Hills” was on hand to cheer on Santa Clara from behind their bench. Adding to the strangeness of it all, even though the band appeared to be on time and ready to go, they didn’t play until 20 minutes or so before the game. Even though I hate canned music, it was almost worth it to see a semi-choreographed reverse-walking, leg-lifting warm up to Wang Chung. You can’t make this stuff up.

If you are wondering why I have devoted so many words to everything but the game, its because there isn’t a whole lot to say about the game, but I will give it a shot anyway.

Like the much hyped volcano lurking under the Canary Islands that will supposedly destroy the world at some point, Santa Clara’s 6’10” 310 pound center John Bryant, christened as “Big Archipelago” here the other day, failed to erupt. He came into the game with impressive numbers against sub-par competition, and last night showed that his statistics have more to do with who he has played than how he has played. After all, I’d like to think I could average 2o and ten against a bunch of 6th graders. Bryant did have a few nice moves that were impressive for his size, but he looked slow and tired after sitting on the bench for long stretches. He held Spencer Tollackson to 3-10 shooting, but Tollackson held Bryant to rebounds. Tollackson and Bryant essentially canceled each other out, but while Santa Clara relied on Bryant to carry the team, the Gophers can get by without anything special from their starting center. In the battle of the centers, a tie was a win for the Gophers.

To shut down Bryant, the Gophers swarmed to the ball every time he touched it. With “Big Archipelago” neutralized, Santa Clara looked lost in the half court offense, telegraphing their passes, dribbling straight into double teams, and repeatedly overthrowing cross court passes into the crowd. Santa Clara committed 26 turnovers as the Gophers stole the ball 18 times, led by Dan Coleman’s 6 steals and 4 break away dunks.

On the offensive end, the Dan Coleman renaissance continued. He had 20 points on 8-13 shooting and once again didn’t attempt a three pointer. Correlation does not imply causation, but until Dan Coleman has a good game in which he shoots a few three pointers, I’ll be a firm believer that inside shooting a taking the ball to the basket are the big reasons for Coleman’s turn around.

The Gophers played their best half court offensive game of the season, at least until they shot the ball. Crisp passes and good positioning led to open shots, and I don’t recall a single possession in which the Gophers threw up an ugly shot as the shot clock wound down because they had been standing still for the previous 34 seconds. But the shots just didn’t fall. Other than the general lack of energy, this was the most noticeable symptom of the long finals break. Minnesota only managed to shoot 40% from the floor compared to 47% for Santa Clara. However, I’ll take a well-run offense with poor shooting over the horrid offense bailed out by good shooting that we saw against South Dakota State.

Speaking of the South Dakota State game, coming into last night’s game, the big concern was rebounding. Against SDSU the Gophers were out rebounded by a much smaller team. Facing a much bigger team last night, rebounding was obviously on a lot of people’s minds. The Gophers were out rebounded again, but this was more a product of a disparity in shots attempted than anything else. Because of Santa Clara’s plethora of turnovers, the Gophers shot the ball 21 more times than the Broncos, and the Broncos had seven more rebounds. With such a shot attempt disparity, offensive rebounds are a much more telling statistic, and last night the Gophers had 5 more offensive rebounds than Santa Clara. It was a far cry from last week when SDSU pulled down offensive rebounds on more than half of their missed shot attempts.

It may not have been stylish or inspired, but the Gophers did what they were supposed to do, and did so a lot better than I expected. Although their schedule hasn’t exactly been challenging, the Gophers completed their home non-conference schedule undefeated, and depending how they do in Las Vegas next week, could be off to their best start since 2000-2001.

Who did what:

  • Travis Busch wasn’t wearing a suit. There may actually be an opportunity for end of game chanting/something to keep people around for the final horn!
  • Dan Coleman has shed his “what could be” status and has become the best player for the Gophers
  • Jamal Abu-Shamala had a very typical game, but led the team in rebounds with 4 (sad but true).
  • Spencer Tollackson couldn’t handle the height and width of Bryant on offense, and shot only 3-10. He did throw former Hopkins star Mitch Henke to the floor, got in a shouting match, and picked up a technical. Never question his effort or intensity.
  • Lawrence Westbrook played solidly and might have figured out whatever ailed him the last few week. He had 8 points (on only 4 shots), led the team in assists with 5, and had 4 rebounds.
  • Lawrence McKenzie continues to adjust to the PG slot, but at least didn’t force anything. He had 11 points (3-5 three pointers), 5 assists, and 4 steals.
  • Al Nolen didn’t do much, bad or good: 2 assists and 2 steals.
  • Jonathan Williams can’t shoot free throws.
  • Kevin Peyton can dunk. I don’t believe it either.
  • Blake Hoffarber played his worst game in a while. He missed all three of his shots, but at least he didn’t pass up anything that was open.
  • Damian Johnson appears to be trying to add a jumper to his repertoire. It wasn’t pretty, but his finish on the alley-oop was.
  • Ryan Saunders should have worn an ugly Christmas sweater. Such a lost opportunity.

Highlights from ESPN