So this is what a winning streak feels like. The Gophers decimated the Northwestern Wildcats 75-52 on Sunday for their third straight conference win, putting them at 3-4 in the Big Ten and square in the middle of the conference race – marking the first time since about when Al Nolen went down with a foot injury that the Gophers were able to pull off a B1G victory in front of a home crowd. And boy does it feel good.
As the turnaround continues, it seems like ages ago that the team was 0-4 and looking down the barrel at another disappointing season. But another inspiring performance from the offense and pesky defense allowed the Gophers to lock down a second straight double-digit conference win and establish themselves as a legitimate team in Big Ten. And not only did the Gophers beat up Northwestern, they utterly destroyed them, jumping out to an 11-0 lead and forcing the Wildcats to miss their first 15 shots of the game. The team never looked back either and didn’t allow Northwestern to claw their way back into the game in any regard.
The game was important for several reasons, not the least of which was showing that the Gophers were a step above Northwestern in terms of talent as they try to make a case for the postseason. The convincing win over a comparable team showed that Minnesota is exactly that. Another important takeaway from the game was that the back-to-back road wins over Indiana and Penn State were not mirages. In fact, by winning a third straight game it’s apparent that the Gophers are a team that will need to be taken seriously the rest of the season. It’s certainly nice to have expectations back for this team, especially considering how weak they looked as little as two weeks ago.
Joe Coleman once again was the story of the game, scoring 16 points to lead the team, grabbing three steals, dishing out three assists and pulling down five rebounds. Coleman also made his way to the line 10 times, showing his ability to get to the hoop. The rest of the starting lineup was just as impressive, with each player scoring in double figures (including Ralph Sampson!).
For the second straight game, the Gophers offense was almost unstoppable. It feels weird to say, considering the team basically bottomed out against Iowa’s 2-3 zone, but the offense was actually firing on all cylinders against the Wildcats, who have traditionally given Minnesota fits on defense. Northwestern employed the 1-3-1 zone a few times, but to no avail. The Gophers shot 58% for the game after shooting 55% against Penn State.
With Coleman drawing the attention of the defense and showing his ability to penetrate, the rest of the offense opens up giving people like Rodney Williams and Austin Hollins opportunities to get good looks. Where the offense before Coleman basically passed the ball around the arc for 25 seconds trying to find an opening, Coleman’s penetration frees up better passing lanes and higher-percentage opportunities. His addition to the starting lineup has completely changed the dynamic of the team.
Also for the second straight game, the opposing offense struggled to get anything close to fluidity. The Gophers held Northwestern to 33% shooting and never gave the Wildcats an opportunity to put together a lengthy run. A few three pointers dropped here and there, but once again the defense wreaked havoc on the inside forcing Northwestern to attempt almost half of their shots from behind the arc.
The Gophers picked a good time to start riding high on confidence, as they now go on the road to face Michigan State before coming back home to take on Illinois – two of the top teams in the Big Ten currently. Winning at least one of those games would be huge for the team as they continue their resurgence as it’s probable that eight or nine wins in the conference would be enough to get the Gophers into the Big Dance.
- Rodney Williams gave John Shurna, the B1G’s leading scorer, fits on defense, forcing Shurna into shooting just 8-21. While Shurna scored 21 points, 10 came in the latter part of the second half with the game essentially decided.
- The Gophers never trailed in the game with their largest lead the game’s final difference – 23.
- Luka Mirkovic, the loudmouth Yugoslavian, only played 10 minutes and scored 0 points. A very nice number.
- Williams had a very nice all-around game, scoring 11 points, blocking three shots and grabbing four steals. He has now scored 11 or more points in six straight games.