Damian Johnson was his energetic self. Colton Iverson played a strong game under the basket. Al Nolen was the defensive catalyst he has always been, and a good floor general. And Lawrence Westbook and a few others played great defense on UVA's best player to lift the Gophers to a win over Virginia Tuesday night in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.
It was 66-56 and the Gophers had control of the game--despite a few bad stretches--for most of the game. The final was 66-56 and we could have won by more.
You don't need to look at the stats--if you watched the game--to know how we won. Johnson blocked shots, changed shots, was a ball hawk. The first team of Johnson, Nolen, Westbrook, Blake Hoffarber and Iverson pushed tempo, created turnovers, disrupted UVA's offense and dominated the Cavaliers first team.
It was only when Minnesota's second team was in that Virginia was able to cut into our leads and keep the game close. And there were considerable reasons for that we'll get into shortly.
Virginia isn't the ACC's best. But for this team of basically kids to handle with relative ease any ACC team is an accomplishment we should be excited about. Here are my positives and negatives from the game. I'd be intersted to hear what all of you thought.
- Westbrook, Johnson and whoever else manned up on UVA's excellent guard Sylven Landesberg to 1-11 shooting. People always pay attention to Westbrook offensively. His defense was very good.
- Six rebounds, three steals, three blocks, six points and countless other plays that turned momentum. Damian Johnson might be the best defensive player in the BIg Ten.
- Al Nolen did a great job of getting Minnesota into its offense. Five assists and five steals to go with nine points and just two turnovers. The Gophers were significantly better with him on the floor.
- Turnovers. We committed 12 and created 18.
- Ball-line defense. Especially when the core group was in, the team defense was much, much better than it was against North Dakota State. We rotated better on defense. We crashed and trapped the ball well. That led to 10 steals and transition offense.
- Minnesota held UVA to 31 percent shooting.
- Williams Arena. Sounded like it was loud and a fun environment.
- Finally, Iverson. He led the team in points (14) and rebounds (7) in only 22 minutes. He's a freshman and he looked like the best big man on the floor Tuesday night. I laughed a week or two ago when someone wrote about the beginning of the Iverson era. Maybe I should have bit my tongue. He can be very good.
- Tubby Smith justifiably pulled Devoe Joseph in at least one instance for not getting the Gophers into a half-court set and instead launching a quick, ill-advised shot. Joseph did seem to calm down in the last 5 minutes, but the Gophers took an obvious step back when he was the point guard and Nolen was getting a breather.
- Jamal Abu-Shamala. As always, he's a gamer and busts his butt. But he's simply not athletic enough for this level of competition.
- Substitutions. At various times, perhaps most notably with about five minutes left in the first half, Tubby lifted his starting group that had just went on a huge run that uplifted the Barn and gave Minnesota a 8 point lead. Then with the second group, the lead immediately diminished. The defensive intensity was gone. The offense, stagnant. We need to have a bench, but moving the groups in and out wholesale didn't seem to work on this night. And, I'd love to see RSIII with Nolen and company sometimes too.
- This is picky, but Johnson shot 3-9 from the field. He shot 0-3 from three. If he can add that outside shot, he could be not only a beast defensively, but quite the force on offense as well.
The win puts the Gophers at 7-0 with Cornell and South Dakota State coming to The Barn on Saturday and Wednesday. If we can get by both of those teams we have Louisville waiting on Dec. 20.
Is anyone excited?