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Letdown: Northwestern 74, #17 Minnesota 65

Because starting with the Gophers is depressing, let's begin by congratulating the Northwestern Wildcats on their first Big Ten win of the season. It sounds cliche, but the Wildcats wanted this game more and it showed.

As for Minnesota, well, this game was like so many others this year--at Iowa, Colorado State and Wisconsin and at home against Cornell--where the Gophers put themselves in a big hole, except this time there was no rabbit to pull out of Tubby Smith's hat.

Hot shooting--some 64 percent--propelled the Gophers to a tenuous 34-31 halftime lead. But Northwestern's trapping half-court zone stymied Minnesota almost the entire second half. And on the other end of the floor, the Wildcats did as they pleased almost all game. The game felt more lopsided than the 74-65 score indicates.

And this wasn't your typical Northwestern win. They didn't grind it out. They didn't use 35 seconds and score on a backdoor cut. No, the Wildcats scored in transition. They rotated the ball with efficiency and hit open perimeter shots as Minnesota's defense was a step slow in rotating. Craig Moore scored outside. Kevin Coble scored inside.

Northwestern's uncharacteristically proficient transition game was buoyed by 19 sloppy Minnesota turnovers. Al Nolen might have played his worst game as Minnesota's starting point guard. He was lost on the offensive end of the floor, turning the ball over 6 times. And on countless other posessions, Nolen didn't seem the least bit prepared to solve Northwestern's zone pressure.

Nolen wasn't the only Minnesota play who was rattled Sunday. The Gophers as a team seemed utterly baffled by the half-court zone pressure. The Wildcats trapped across the half-court line in the corners. They didn't let the ball in the middle. Too often the Gophers tried to dribble through the zone. Didn't work. Too often they telegraphed their passes. Where a Wisconsin team would ball fake and pass, the Gophers simply through passes into the outstrectched hands of their opponents. And it was infuriating.

And even despite the team's poor offensive performance (game plan?), Minnesota still could have won this game by playing Tubby Smith basketball. And that means defense. For most of the game, the Gophers didn't play much of any.

For the game, the Wildcats shot about 48 percent from the field. For the season, Minnesota has held opponents to 38 percent rom the floor. Moore was the beneficiary of most of that sieve-like defense, filling up the score sheet for 22 points on 6-for-9 from the floor. Coble added 20 points, including a perfect 9-for-9 from the free throw line.

Speaking of free throws, for the second straight road game, the Gophers were jump shot happy. While Northwsetern was aggressive to the basket, Minnesota was passive (or turning the ball over). The end result was a 27 to 11 fhree throw advantage for Northwestern.

I led this review by stating that Northwestern wanted this game more. I think that stat tells the story. If the Gophers have any hope of bouncing back and beating Purdue on Thursday--and the Boilers looked damn good Sunday against Iowa--they'll need to play with more intensity and much better all around to have a chance.

On to other random observations:

  • Some in the game thread were asking for Devron Bostick. He played 10 minutes and turned the ball over against Northwestern's zone pressure 4 times. I'd say that deserves a place on the bench. But the same should have went for Nolen on this day.
  • In the first half when Minnesota mostly played well on offense, the Gophers used a size advantage to their advantage. Colton Iverson had two quick hoops on the inside. But he finished with 4 points in just 10 minutes. For most of the second half, Tubby played small ball. But perhaps what this team needed on this day was an inside scorer, to dump the ball inside, force the zone to collapse and then kick out? We saw no such offensive attack Sunday. The Gophers shot outside jump shots exclusively in the second half.
  • Blake Hoffarber hit a three!!! But he was 1-for-5. 
  • Lawrence Westbrook led the Gophers with 18 points on 6-for-14 shooting. I dont mind Westbrook shooting that much, though it was scary the time or two he tried to run the offense. His 18 points, 8 reboudns, 4 assists and 2 steals (and 2 turnovers) seems like a pretty decent day to me).
  • You've heard the talk about Tubby's bench wearing down opponents? Well, it didn't happen to Northwestern. Moore played 38 minutes. Coble played 33. Michael Thompson played 36 and Jeremy Nash played 29. Minnesota's top 3--DJ Swat, Nolen and Westbrook--played 30, 29 and 27 minutes respectively.

Up Next: Purdue comes to Minneapolis on Thursday. Let's not get too down about tihs loss. If you had told me the Gophers would have gone 1-1 on this road trip I would have been happy, I just wouldn't have expected a win at Wisconsin and a loss at Northwestern.