A truly rewarding journey isn’t easy. There are wrong turns, detours, and delays. The college basketball season is 30 games long, and the Golden Gophers got lost along the way, and more than once looked like they wanted to give up and go home. Instead, they’ll be playing to go to the teams first Sweet 16 (that counts) since 1989. In basketball as in life, without negatives there can be no positives.
Consider the circumstances the team was facing. They steadily slipped from a top ten team in the country to sneaking into the NCAA tournament without even a 10 seed. They couldn’t win away from home. Their coach was (and still may be) as good as gone. Their “fans” were hoping for a loss to force a coaching change. The team didn’t seem to have any confidence in themselves or each other.
So of course they beat UCLA by 20 points. No, the Bruins weren’t at full strength, will soon be on the market for a new coach of their own, and had controversy swirling around the program all day. That still doesn’t account for what amounts to a resurrection just before Holy Week. The Gophers couldn’t beat Nebraska or Purdue away from home, and UCLA at any strength is better than those two teams.
Tubby Smith, who deserves blame, win or lose, had the Gophers play a match-up zone for the first time all season, and UCLA had no choice but to employ Minnesota’s own feeble-minded zone offense. The always ready to run and attack Bruins couldn’t get open shots, while the Gophers were more than willing to race up and down the court. After a multi-week absence #hollinsanity combined for 44 points and 12 assists, and Joe Coleman chipped in 14 points, again benefiting from a faster-paced game.
Of the current Gopher players, only Trevor Mbakwe, and only because he is seemingly pushing 30, was alive the last time the Gophers won a tournament game. With a new-found confidence, maybe the Gophers can win a few more. The goal of the regular season is always to make it to the tournament, and the goal of the tournament is to stick around as long as possible. For the first time in 24 years, the Gophers get to stick around.