On a night when not much defense was expected during the BCS Championship game, there was plenty on display in Iowa City. Well, it was either that or horrible offense. Let's pretend it was the former.
The Gophers prevailed 52-49 in a game that was in doubt until a final half-court heave from Iowa. A comeback win on the road is nothing to scoff at, so no matter how frustrated you might have been with the team last night, keep that in mind. And, yes, I have no choice but to state that Travis Busch was the MVP of the game.
But the only thing that allowed Busch to earn any praise was Minnesota's defense.
During the first 15 minutes of the second stanza, the Hawkeyes had 7 points and one made field goal. Tubby Smith made this happen with a small defensive change. Since Iowa was without any size to speak of--Cyrus Tate had left with an ankle injury--Tubby went to a smallish lineup and asked his defenders to switch on every ball screen. Less athletic than Minnesota and with no inside game, Iowa had nothing. As ESPN's Doug Gottlieb (usually annoying, but was right here) pointed out, Iowa's entire half-court man offense comes via ball-screens. Without a penetrator on the floor, the Hawkeyes were left to fire up ill-advised jumpers.
Back to Busch, also known as the guy many Gophers fans (including me) want to see play more sparingly. With the ice-cold Gophers unable to hit much of anything from the outside, Busch hit two big threes, one in each half. He crashed the boards for a clutch put-back when Iowa was on a bit of a run in the final five minutes. To top it off, he drove to the basket with under a minute to play and kissed one off the glass to give Minnesota a 48-44 lead with 39 seconds left. He was gritty and he was good. He ended the game with a team-high 10 points
The first half was arguably the ugliest 20 minutes of the year for the Gophers. They shot under 30 percent. The half-court offense was stagnant. Too many posessions ended with the ball not getting anywhere near the paint--this despite a considerable size advantage. The Gophers were lucky to be down just 26-20 at the break.
For the game, the Gophers shot just 33.9 percent and an ugly 5-22 from three. Blake Hoffarber was 0-4 from beyond the arc. As a team, Minnesota did far too much dribbling. They ended the game with 7--only seven!!--assists. But the Gophers made up for that with a 16-7 offensive rebounding edge and a 16-11 turnover edge. They needed every extra opportunity.
The undermanned Hawkeyes eventually brought Minnesota product Anthony Tucker--he who passed out a bar, was suspended and then came down with mono--into the game. And Tucker's ability to penetrate and kick helped Iowa make things tight down the stretch after Minnesota built a 7 point second half lead. Todd Lickliter and the Hawkeyes gave it everything they had, but would up losing to a more talented team.
Now, some other random observations.
- Maybe for the first time this season, I thought Al Nolen was hurting the Gophers at times. As the team struggled to get good looks, on a couple of occasions he threw up quick outside shots. He made a long, clutch three at the end, but finished 3-10 from the field. But as Nolen is wont to do, he finished with zero turnovers.
- Tubby Smith played 9 players 10 minutes or more and Paul Carter played 9 minutes. Jamal Abu-Shamala played 6 minutes. Jon Williams had 2.
- Not only was Hoffarber once again cold from the outside, but he led the team with three turnovers. And they weren't pretty turnovers either. Two of them came within the final few minutes. Blake has to get over whatever's bothering him.
- Carter had an impactful 9 minutes, scoring 5 points and grabbing three offensive rebounds (including a nice follow on a miss of his own).
- Carver-Hawkeye Arena wasn't very full. And it didn't seem like a good atmosphere until the last few minutes. Hawkeye fans must be bored with the Todd Lickliter era.
- Ralph Sampson III was Minnesota's most effective post-player on this night. Before Tubby went to small-ball, RSIII was 3-5 in the paint, including a left-handed baby hook/heave.
- Minnesota product and almost-Gopher Andrew Brommer player 12 minutes and didn't look like a Big Ten big man.
Up Next for the Gophers is a Penn State team fresh off of a confidence boosting victory at home against Purdue. Thankfully for Minnesota the Gophers welcome Talor Battle to The Barn. That game is Saturday at 2:30 central time.
Until then, here is your boxscore from Minnesota's win over Iowa.