Well that felt good, didn't it?
Stomping Bucky's Big Ten title hopes. Watching Bo Ryan have a mini-meltdown as his Badgers were wilting to Minnesota's intensity. Watching the Gophers assert their will and determination. Hearing the frenzied crowd toss around expletives at Bo Ryan.
Make no mistake, the Gophers beat the Wisconsin Badgers last night and it wasn't ever really that close.
Oh, and the Gophers have now won three straight against our rivals to the east. Take that, Jon Leuer and every other traitor that crosses state lines!!!!
As for the game itself, the Gophers won handily for a few reasons. For large stretches of the game, Tubby Smith put out a big lineup instead of the three-guard lineup the team has been using. Colton Iverson and Ralph Sampson III played together for significant minutes and either had Damian Johnson or Paul Carter on the floor with them. That heft advantage allowed the Gophers to dominate the war on the boards, claiming a 41 to 28 rebounding advantage. Sampson and Iverson had 8 and 7 boards respectively.
But some of the success on the glass can be attributed to sheer effort. Blake Hoffarber had nine rebounds. Simply put, the Gophers outworked the Badgers and that was great to see.
Aside from the lineup change, Minnesota's other tweak that worked was moving to a 3-2 zone for much of the game. The Gophers did a good job of forcing mostly tough outside shots from the Badgers while cutting off driving lanes and not allowing the Badgers the opportunity to get the ball into the middle. Damian Johnson's length at the top of the zone and Iverson's and Sampson's girth underneath really stymied the Badgers. I felt that for the first time in awhile, Minnesota was dictating by changing its defense instead of changing defenses in a reactionary manner.
The lineup changes shifted minutes around signifcantly. Iverson logged 29 effective minutes. Johnson might have played his best game in awhile and saw the floor for 37 minutes. That meant Paul Carter's minutes were limited. The let's-go-big mindset also meant that the Gophers didn't play Rodney Williams or Devron Bostick. Devoe Joseph and Justin Cobbs split time at the point and Hoffarber, Joseph and Westbrook shared minutes at the shooting guard spot. Joseph, in my opinion, was still too careless with the ball. He turned the ball over three times and Minnesota as a whole committed 11 turnovers to Wisconsin's 5.
But the fact that the Gophers won while losing the turnover battle speaks volumes to how well they played in the other facets of the game. Who would have thought the Gophers could beat a team like Wisconsin while only forcing 5 turnovers and rarely scoring in transition? But Minnesota made up for its inability to force turnovers by winning on the glass and executing in its half-court offense, something that we've seen far too little of this season.
We saw the Gophers moving without the ball. We saw Hoffarber running off of screens. We saw Iverson, Sampson and the guards quickly moving the ball from inside to out. We saw Damian Johnson penetrate and play back to the basket. We saw the Gophers play very well on offense despite not getting a point from Lawrence Westbrook until the final minutes of the game.
Hoffarber led the team with 16 points. Johnson added 11. Sampson and Joseph put up 10 apiece.
For as dissappointing as this season has been, for one night against the hated Badgers, the Gophers played great. And about 12 hours later, the win still feels great.
One other note, Steve Lavin noted last night that the Gophers all shaved their heads in solidarity with Paul Carter, who shaved his in solidarity with a family member who recently underwent chemotherapy. It's great to see that camaraderie from this team.