Michigan Wolverines: Austin Hollins

Loss leaves Gophers grasping for answers

January, 18, 2013

MINNEAPOLIS -- Minnesota can no longer blame injuries and defections for the Golden Gophers' sudden issues.

Blaming the competition doesn't fly, either.

Minnesota probably shouldn't win at Indiana (Wisconsin did) or beat Michigan at home (Ohio State did). But the Gophers are no longer the Gophers from the past two seasons, when issues dogged the team.

Yet, the convincing Jan. 9 victory at Illinois was followed up by flops in the first halves at Indiana and then again Thursday against Michigan. The Gophers had chances to come back in both games, playing to their strengths by getting rebounds, spreading the floor, causing turnovers and making shots.

But it was too late in both games and now, after the 83-75 loss to the No. 5 Wolverines, the Gophers are 3-2 in the Big Ten and looking up at not just Michigan and Indiana, but also Michigan State, Ohio State and 4-0 Wisconsin.

[+] EnlargeTim Hardaway Jr., Austin Hollins
Cal Sport Media via AP ImagesAustin Hollins couldn't keep up with Michigan's Tim Hardaway Jr. most of the night in Minnesota's loss.
"I'm disappointed," said Minnesota coach Tubby Smith. "Usually we respond much better. I don't know what happened."

The ninth-ranked Gophers dug themselves a huge hole against the Wolverines, much as they did against the Hoosiers. Turnovers dogged Minnesota early and often; so, too, did missed free throws. Oh, and the inability to even cover Tim Hardaway Jr., let alone Trey Burke -- arguably one of the best backcourts in the country -- led to a 19-point deficit at one point.

"We can't be digging these holes like we do," said Minnesota's Rodney Williams, who fouled out after scoring 11 points. "We can't be out there and not be on the same page."

Williams said Hardaway made tough shots in the first half, and that Austin Hollins did a good job contesting them. But over the course of the game, the Gophers couldn't stand in front of Burke or Hardaway, unlike Ohio State on Sunday. There was no Aaron Craft defending Burke, and certainly no one face-guarding Hardaway as well as possible.

Hardaway finished with 21 points; Burke had 18 points, 9 assists and just 1 turnover. Burke played 36 minutes -- and would have played more had he not ripped his shirt. The Gophers committed 15 turnovers and many turned into Wolverines points -- the most embarrassing of which Glenn Robinson III finished off with a 360-degree dunk.

"We're turning the ball over too much," said Minnesota's Trevor Mbakwe. "They scored 22 points off turnovers. We got off to a slow start and it killed the momentum [from the second-half comeback at Indiana]. We've got to figure out a way to take care of the ball."

Look, the Gophers have lost only to elite teams -- to Duke in the Battle 4 Atlantis and now to Indiana in Bloomington and Michigan at home. If those are the worst losses the Gophers suffer, they'll be just fine. But there are concerns in the way the Gophers suffered the two most recent defeats.

This team still can contend. But the players cannot point fingers, get frustrated or get out of sync too often.

"We know the winner of the Big Ten is going to have two or three losses," said Mbakwe. "It's too early. You've got to take care of your home game and win all of your home games. Everyone has a loss in the Big Ten except Wisconsin. Hopefully, when we go there next week [after a road game at Northwestern] we can hand them a loss. We still believe we have a chance to win the Big Ten."

MINNEAPOLIS -- The matchup between No. 5 Michigan and No. 9 Minnesota at the Barn on Thursday night was billed as a battle between a pair of top-10 squads fighting to maintain their voice in the Big Ten title discussion. But the Gophers were silent. An early Michigan push in the second half changed the game, as the Wolverines left the Gophers behind in their 83-75 victory.

Overview: In the first half, both teams refused to guard the 3-point line. The oversight, however, added to the excitement. Michigan connected on 6 of 11 shots from beyond the arc (54.5 percent). Minnesota shot 71.4 percent from the 3-point line (71.4 percent). But those marks highlighted their respective defensive gaps. The Wolverines carried a 36-30 lead into the second half, a margin that Tim Hardaway Jr. (17 points before halftime) helped create. They extended that edge early in the second half with a 20-7 rally that led to a 56-37 lead. The Gophers couldn’t stay with Trey Burke (18 points, 9 assists) or Hardaway Jr. The duo toyed with Minnesota as the Gophers tried to adjust between man-to-man and zone. Minnesota made a brief run, but Michigan’s 3-pointers (10-for-20) were the difference. Just like last weekend’s loss at Indiana, the Gophers spent the evening trying to overcome a deficit. And in the end, they couldn’t do it. Meanwhile, Michigan made a statement about its Big Ten and national title hopes with a dominant performance -- ignoring the final, sloppy minutes -- against a top-10 squad. Minnesota’s Austin Hollins had 21 points in the loss.

Turning point: That run in the second half was devastating for Minnesota, uplifting for Michigan. The Wolverines showcased that top-rated offense (No. 1 in Ken Pomeroy’s adjusted offensive efficiency) when they pounced and turned the game for good. On the road, especially in a league like the Big Ten, I think you have to initiate in a hostile environment. The Wolverines recognized that and did something about it, quieting the Barn crowd in the second half.

Key player: Burke was the maestro for the Michigan, but Hardaway (21 points, 6 rebounds) was the playmaker. The Gophers didn’t have an answer for him. He raced up the floor and picked up easy buckets in transition. He hit jump shots. He hit 3s. He was a problem all night for Minnesota.

Key stat: The Gophers committed 15 turnovers. That’s their story. Teams rarely overcome sloppy ballhandling to get a win over a top-five opponent. Minnesota didn’t take care of the ball because the Wolverines did a great job of pressuring. But the Gophers were also irresponsible with possessions.

Other thoughts: Russ Smith and Phil Pressey might be faster, but Burke can shift gears in ways no other player in America can. That’s why it’s so difficult to stay in front of him. That’s also why Aaron Craft deserves more credit for his defensive effort against Burke on Sunday. ... Freshman Mitch McGary had a tough task. He was matched up against Trevor Mbakwe on multiple possessions. But he didn’t back down. He’s maturing. ... Before the game, I talked to an NBA scout who told me that he’d “been waiting” for Rodney Williams to blossom the way he has thus far. But he went 4-for-12 against the Wolverines and didn’t play with the same discipline he’d showcased in past games.

Next game: Michigan will face Purdue next Thursday in Ann Arbor. The Gophers will face Northwestern in Evanston, Ill., on Wednesday.


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