It wasn't the simple fact that the Minnesota Golden Gophers won Sunday night that was reassuring. It was how they won.
For maybe the first time in the last 10 games--now a 4-6 stretch--the Gophers had a sort of defensive intensity that marked the teams 16-1 start. That defense made it difficult for Northwestern to get comfortable offensively. That defense turned into transition baskets and a more aggressive Minnesota team.
The final result was 72-45 Minnesota win over Northewestern to move the Gophers to 20-7 (8-7) in a Big Ten conference that is all jammed up in the middle.
As has been the case when the Gophers have played well this season, there wasn't a superstar leading the way. The Big Ten Network dutifully pointed out the dominance Minnesota demonstrated when reserves were on the floor. When that depth has provided offense, and more importantly defensive intensity, the Gophers have played well, and usually won.
Perhaps because of that defensive energy, all things offense were a tad easier. The Gophers shot an improved .51 percent from the field and 43 percent from three. This came against a 1-3-1 defense that just one month ago at Northwestern completely stymied the Gophers. The awakening allowed the struggling Lawrence Westbrook to return to form with 17 points. Devron Bostick, who had all but disappeared from the rotation, found a role early after making a couple quick shots. He finished with 9 points.
The Gophers also dominated Northwestesrn on the glass by a margin of 36 to 18. Paul Carter led the way with 8. Ralph Sampson III finished with 7.
On the negative side, the Gophers still turned the ball over far too often (16 times compared to 11 for Northwestern). But the team's ball movement and penetration against the zone was much improved. The Gophers finished with 16 assists.
All of this combined for a game that was lopsided for about 30 minutes. Northwestern never put up a fight. They never made a run. They didn't threaten the Gophers at all.
Things aren't easy for the Gophers down the stretch. This win was nice to get the team back on the right track, but now they head an Illinois team that bounced back Sudnay at Ohio State after somehow putting up a shocking 33 points in a loss to Penn State earlier this week.
Finally, I'd be remiss if I didn't offer up congratulations to Coach Smith for securing 20 wins for the 16th consecutive season, Now let's seize the momentum from this win and take it to Illinois.