We now have a legitimate win streak. Two in a row is nice, especially when they were both on the road. But in case you haven't three is legit and it was nice to finally see a homecourt conference win. This three-game win streak has had two very common things. Joe Coleman is leading this team offensively and the entire team is playing much better defense. A great defensive effort and a balanced offense led the Golden Gophers to a dominating win over the Northwestern Wildcats.
This game was essentially decided in the first eight minutes of the game while the Gophers built an 11-0 lead before Northwestern finally scored their first points at the 12:13 mark. From that point on Minnesota slowly built their lead to 17 at halftime and the game was right around a 20 point margin for most of the second half. NU, lead by John Shurna, made a mini-run at about the 11 minute mark in the second half to narrow the gap from 22 to 14 before the Gopher starters returned to the game and finished off the Wildcats.
Northwestern Coach Bill Carmody wasn't real pleased with this team's road effort today.
"We were just never able to put them in a position where they were uncomfortable or nervous about anything in their offense. They were loosey-goosey the whole time. I thought every single guy on their team, the match-ups, they outplayed all of our guys. Hearn did OK. everybody else, their guy out played our guy."
In all honesty this game was not very entertaining with the sizable margin and the Big Ten refs doing their best to bring the game to an unwatchable pace. But the story of the game is not any particular player for the Gophers instead it was another very good game of team defense that took away their opponent's strength. It certainly helped that Northwestern looked like they were shooting at baskets that were an inch higher than they were used to shooting at. Northwestern's field goal percentage for the game was 32.7%, three point shooting was 30.8% and their free throw percentage 40%.
Some of that is due to Northwestern having an awful shooting night but you certainly cannot deny that much of it has to be attributed to the Gopher defense which has been playing like a totally different team in the last three games. Carmody gave the credit to Minnesota.
"But it's not all about us. They executed very well they shot the heck out of the ball, they were getting lay-ups out of their offense. And if you shoot that poorly they have something to do with that. so credit to them."
Tubby gave the credit to Northwestern.
"I thought we caught Northwestern on a down day and we had plenty of time to prepare and thought that was the difference"
Offensively it was a balanced Gopher offense with all five starters in double-figures led by Joe Coleman. Ralph Sampson III was strong and confident early. Rodney had nine of his 11 in the first half before some foul trouble. Julian and Joe both had eight in the second half. This team effort was yet another improvement and step forward for the Gopher squad that has been searching for an identity since the loss of Mbakwe. They may be finding it.
"We added some toughness to our lineup when we inserted Joe Coleman and its been huge for us, I think its been contagious. I see Ralph has been more aggressive, Rodney's been more aggressive taking the ball to the basket. So I think our entire team has benefited."
Up next is a reminder that the Big Ten is no picnic. Starting Wednesday they play Michigan State, Illinois and Iowa in seven days. Some of that newfound toughness needs to shine through and carry the team through some tough and important games. Two out of three would be nice but that still just gets us back to .500 in the league with a lot of very good teams remaining on the schedule.