Saturday, February 16, 2008

Gophers Keep Things Interesting Against Bucky

I sat down for the Wisconsin-Minnesota game this afternoon fully expecting to hang my head by halftime, admitting that our eastern rival is superior. Instead the Gophers came out and put together a methodical first half that would keep the game interesting well into the second half, before Bucky pulled away with about four minutes left. The Badgers eventually won 65-56.

So, how exactly were the Gophers able to compete for 36 minutes with the Badgers--a team that ran the maroon and gold out of Williams Arena just two weeks ago? Credit defense, and a first half tempo.

While shots weren't falling in the first half, the Gophers were getting to the free throw line by running effective pick and rolls, cutting and penetrating. The Gophers were playing Wisconsin's game better than the Badgers were. Defensively, the Gophers were limiting Bucky's ability to penetrate and create. All shots were contested. Offensively the Gophers were calm. Shots weren't rushed. The transition game was non-existent and because of the slow play turnovers were sparse. And what resulted was a back-and-forth first half that ended with the Badgers up just one.

Meanwhile, the typically loud Kohl Center crowd was muted. The BTN's Greg Kelser consistently referred to the Kohl Center as a library-type atmosphere. In the first half, the Gophers did exactly what they needed to do to pull off a big upset on the road.

And then, strangely, the Gophers' strategy seemed to change in the second half. Instead of forcing the ball inside after cuts and picks, the Gophers started looking for the first, quick open shot--typically threes. For a few minutes, this up tempo style was paying off. Lawrence McKenzie and Lawrence Westbrook hit a few from outside in succession. The Gophers built a five point lead.

But Bucky continued its methodical play. The Badgers weren't hurried. They didn't start turning the ball over. But Minnesota's second half tempo eventually did damage to the Gophers. Instead of making sound offensive decisions, the Gophers became rushed. Al Nolen--who started I believe for the first time and played well for most of the game--found holes in the Wisconsin defense, but then dumped off a couple questionable no-look passes in the paint. Result: turnover.

More than anything, however, the Gophers were hurt Saturday afternoon by an inability to finish in the paint. Jonathan Williams missed uncountable bunnies underneath. Spencer Tollackson couldn't finish. Dan Coleman, well, Dan Coleman disappeared for most of the game as he is wont to do. But many of the interior misses came at momentum-changing times. Nothing would fall.

Foul trouble also hurt the Gophers. Spencer Tollackson was on the bench for most of the second half with three fouls. Jon Williams, Dan Coleman and Damian Johnson all finished with four fouls. Of the four big men, it was only Williams that made an impact on the boards, leading the team with eight. Senior leaders Tollackson and Coleman finished the game with one rebound apiece.

While poor shooting (the Gophers shot 33 percent) and the faster-paced second half probably cost the Gophers, it was also clear that the defensive effort was far superior Saturday than it was against the Badgers two weeks ago or against Illinois this week. Not until the middle part of the second half were the Badgers able to consistently penetrate and score or kick to an open outside shooter. The Badgers deserve credit for their ball movement and patience, but for most of the game the Gophers were able to play very sound defense, typically playing half court man to man.

The rotation was different again. Al Nolen led the team with 33 mostly solid minutes. He had a couple shaky moments, and he needs to learn how to make crisp interior passes, but it's good to see him playing more. Nolen was part of a three guard lineup that included McKenzie and Westbrook that saw a majority of minutes. Of the four big men, Johnson saw the most action (26 minutes). Coleman (22) and Williams (21) played more than the foul-plagued Tollackson (12)

The boxscore for the game is here.

UP Next: The Gophers come home for two winnable games. On Thursday, the Michigan Wolverines come to The Barn and on Sunday the Gophers host Ed DeChellis' Penn State Nittany Lions.

3 comments:

From the Barn said...

Nolen started at FSU.

Clem's Nuts said...

Well said PJS: "More than anything, however, the Gophers were hurt Saturday afternoon by an inability to finish in the paint. Jonathan Williams missed uncountable bunnies underneath. Spencer Tollackson couldn't finish. Dan Coleman, well, Dan Coleman disappeared for most of the game as he is wont to do. But many of the interior misses came at momentum-changing times. Nothing would fall."



Again, my seatmate and I scuttled into a bar to watch the Gophers get lambasted by boring Bucky (seriously I don't believe Butch actually left the ground on Sat, set shots, standing rebounds--yet so effective). And by half time we were fairly impressed with what was transpiring. But, those pivotal 4 minutes came, where the Gophers gave up the usual 1X-0 run, and we were back to hucking 3pointers with <2 min to play. Anyway, we again in the last minutes of the game, stared glassy eyed at the screen pondering yet another Gopher loss and took up the discussion about who frustrates us most on the Gophers and why. He has an intense distaste for Williams and the missed bunnies (with a close second to the 13 head fakes in the lane by Spence that never work which then lead to him blocking his own shot with the underside of the backboard) where I settle nicely on JAS sniffing minutes and the Lawrences not shooting enough!!



Anyway, I had a good mindset going into that game, so I figure that loss was like...ehh, I dunno 4 cigarettes (allegedly don't you lose like 8 minutes of life per smoke??) where as the Illinois and home Bucky loss was like a carton of smokes.



On to Michigan.

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