Days after decimating the Nebraska Cornhuskers and seemingly righting the ship on a season that had gotten away from them, the Gophers nearly laid an egg at home against the Iowa Hawkeyes. Playing mostly uninspired basketball, Minnesota was bailed out in the waning seconds of the game by an Austin Hollins three pointer that put them up by one and eventually led to the victory. It was another conference win for the Gophers, which don’t ever come easy, but the victory was far from satisfying. In fact, it almost felt like demoralizing win, if there ever was one.
Maybe I’m not giving Iowa enough credit and am underrating them. Maybe I’m not giving the Gophers enough credit for battling back and eeking out a hard-fought victory. No matter which side of the argument you come down on, it’s clear that this wasn’t the best basketball we’ve seen from the Gophers this year. And that it comes at a turbulent time of the season is concerning. The terrible results on the road against Northwestern and Wisconsin is still fresh in our minds and there were definitely shades of that today against the Hawkeyes. Stagnant offense, untimely mistakes and more poor play from the reserves nearly sunk the Gophers, who wasted an extremely fast start that had them up 14-2 just minutes into the game.
On the heels of an impressive performance against Nebraska, I would feel a little looser if Minnesota had played more inspired after ending a four-game losing streak. They figured out their stagnant offensive woes against the Huskers, but very little of that carried over to the game against Iowa. They grinded out the victory, but after what we’ve seen from this team it’s hard to be confident that they’ve turned the corner after squeaking by an unimpressive Hawkeyes team at home.
It sounds like I’m recapping a loss, right? That’s pretty much what it felt like. Minnesota gave Iowa chance after chance on the offensive boards, giving up 22 offensive rebounds and nearly blowing a game to a team that shot less than 40 percent from the field. That’s right. Iowa shot 36 percent for the game and nearly pulled it out. This is against a Gopher team with the likes of Elliott Eliason, Rodney Williams and Trevor Mbakwe setting up down low. That shouldn’t happen. Loose balls weren’t corralled and there were too many sloppy passes in the backcourt which nearly sunk the Gophers hopes.
Again, wins are never guaranteed in the conference, even at home, but it’s hard to look at the Gophers right now and see the team that took down Michigan State, beat Memphis and destroyed Illinois. I’m happy with the win, but this game did very little to assure me that they should continue to be expected to compete with the top teams in the conference.
Even after all this anguish, I’m still having trouble deciding if the Gophers showed heart by overcoming mistakes and securing the win, or if we should be worried because they were forced into a corner by Iowa at home and needed a three-pointer in the final 15 seconds to pull off what should have been an easier victory. All teams run into down games where they don’t play up to their potential, but there have been far too many of those in recent weeks for Minnesota to merely write this game off as something that “just happens” over the course of the season.
Oh well. For a now a win is a win. That said, the Gophers have the chance to make some noise the the upcoming games and continue to put the season on the right course. They face a challenge having to go on the road against a rejuvenated Michigan State team next, but then they get three winnable games in a row with Illinois and Wisconsin at home and then Iowa on the road. A 3-1 performance in those games puts the team at 20-6 on the year and 8-5 in the conference. The opportunities are there, the team just needs to continue winning the games they are supposed to.
Can’t they just win them a little easier? Our blood pressures would appreciate it.