Yes, I know there isn’t such a thing as a good loss, there are no moral victories, and to say that a team had either a moral victory or a good loss does little more than indicate how bad that team actually is. Well, the Gophers aren’t very good, but they played much better than I expected yesterday against the heavily favored Badgers.
Minnesota had little reason even to be competitive. Coming off a humiliating home loss to Illinois and just two weeks removed from another perplexing home loss to the Badgers, Minnesota should have been ready to fold from the opening tip.
But they didn’t.
Credit Tubby Smith’s coaching, the seniors realizing that they are running out of time to accomplish anything, or Wisconsin’s inability to score, but Minnesota was ready to go from the opening whistle.
Like most games that take place in the Kohl Center, this was a low scoring affair as both teams struggled to make field goals. Minnesota regularly employed the pick and roll, which Wisconsin was unable to guard for much of the first half. The Gophers, who had a disturbingly difficult time making lay ups and dunks all game, often had to settle for free throws, but they were able to make eight of their first eleven free throw attempts.
While the pick and roll led to free throws, the rest of the half court offense subsisted off of long three pointers, occasionally banked in from angles that would make most geometry teachers proud, and would only confuse Spencer Tollackson. With the half court offense struggling, Al Nolen had a quick pull up three for the Gophers first field goal more than 5 minutes into the game. Nolen added another along with Blake Hoffarber and Jamal Abu-Shamala who both found themselves open after 2 of the Gophers 11 offensive rebounds. It wasn’t until the 4:09 mark of the second half that the Gophers finally made a two point shot. Despite their ineptitude inside of 20 feet Minnesota only trailed by one a t the half.
And then the real Gophers showed up.
For at least the 3rd time this season, the Gophers were able to hang around in the first half, only to lose it in the second half. Whether its their inability to make lay ups (Wisconsin on Saturday), guard the hot shooter (Ohio State et al.), or make free throws (Indiana), the Gophers have been unable to mask their many deficiencies for a whole game.
Minnesota has had difficulty finishing all season, but yesterday Jonathan Williams put on missed opportunity clinic. He was 0-5 shooting, with 3 missed lay-ups and two missed dunks. Spencer Tollackson could have done better, but he only played 12 minutes.
With the Gopher unable to finish on the inside, they shied away from attacking the rim with the pick and roll, and even when their guards, particularly Al Nolen, were able to penetrate, Minnesota front court was ill-prepared or equipped to catch the ball and score.
While Minnesota struggled, the Badgers stuck to their game and minimized their mistakes. They were able to improve their shooting percentage from 36.4% in the first half to 52.9% in the second half. Wisconsin also benefited from their now notorious home free throw advantage (though the officials were anything but glaringly pro-Badger) and made 25-33 for the game compared to the Gophers 12-20.
For Wisconsin to win, all they needed to do was play an average game, and that is exactly what they did. They had solid if not spectacular play from everyone on the court (5 of whom scored in double figures) which was more than enough to put away the Gophers, even though they played much better than expected.
Who did what?
- Dan Coleman struggled again with foul trouble for most of the game. He scored 10 points, though 5 came in the last minute of an already decided game. More disappointingly, he managed only 1 rebound. Add it to the long list of disappointing performances by Minnesota’s seniors in big games.
- Spencer Tollackson only played 12 minutes. He had a bit of foul trouble, but only had three fouls in the game, not nearly enough to justify so little playing time. Either Tubby Smith decided that Jonathan Williams needed playing time or he is punishing Tollackson for his poor performances of late. Regardless, he had 4 points on 2-4 shooting. If he played more, the Gophers might have won. At least Spencer can make lay-ups and dunks when isn’t guarded.
- Al Nolen made the most out of the second start of his career. His shooting was nothing special (6 points on 2-7 shooting) but his 6 rebounds, 5 assists, and 3 steals were. Nolen will probably benefit the most from next year’s recruiting class, when the Gopher big men can catch and finish, and not fumble anything other than a lob.
- Lawrence McKenzie struggled with his shooting (notice a trend?) but played a very nice floor game. The shots he did make (3-10, 2-6 from three) came at opportune times that halted Wisconsin’s momentum.
- Lawrence Westbrook had the best shooting day of any Gopher as he scored 10 points on 3-5 shooting. Go tell Myron Medcalf that Westbrook will be a valuable part of this team for the rest of his career. Do it now.
- Jonathan Williams may have cost the Gophers the game, or he may have kept them in it. He couldn’t drop a penny in the ocean, but he shut down the Badger front court and led the team in rebounding. With Spencer Tollackson’s minutes, he assumed the role of the best and worst player on the team. I long for the day when Minnesota’s leading scorer can play a little defense and maybe, just maybe, make lay-ups consistently.
- Blake Hoffarber still can’t create his own shot, and when his outside shot isn’t falling (1-5 from the floor) it isn’t pretty.
- Jamal Abu-Shamala still can’t create his own shot, and when his outside shot isn’t falling (1-3 from the floor) it isn’t pretty.
- Damian Johnson was pretty mediocre. He scored 5 points and added 6 rebounds (3 offensive).
- Ryan Saunders, sharp, classy, and not over the top. Nice work.