MINNEAPOLIS - With Minnesota improving to 8-0 Saturday, Tubby Smith is off to his best start as a college basketball coach. Still, he's being cautious in dishing out praise to his Gophers.
Even after Minnesota shot 57 percent in the second half while holding Cornell to 19 percent, the veteran coach knows his team can't afford to get ahead of itself.
"There's a lot of things we've got to get better," Smith said Saturday after Minnesota beat Cornell 71-54. "I expect more, but (the offense) is efficient enough right now for us to get a win."
Lawrence Westbrook led Minnesota with 17 points and the Gophers rallied from a 13-point deficit.
It's the first time Smith has guided a team to eight straight wins to start a season. His previous best came in 2003-04, when he led Kentucky to a 7-0 start.
After facing a soft group of opening opponents, the Gophers passed their toughest test so far. Cornell (4-5) had lost two straight to Indiana and No. 16 Syracuse, but hurt Minnesota from the perimeter early and converted turnovers into points.
The Gophers also lost their second-leading scorer, Blake Hoffarber, to an ankle injury early in the second half with Minnesota trailing by 13.
"We had to make some adjustments in the second half and the biggest adjustment was getting our guys to play with a little more urgency," Smith said.
After Hoffarber was helped off the court, Minnesota responded with 13 consecutive points to tie the game and bring the Williams Arena crowd to its feet.
Westbrook's fast-break layup with 9:04 left put Minnesota on top 49-48, and the Gophers never trailed again.
Cornell only made five shots in the second half. The Big Red's 14 second-half points were the fewest allowed by the Gophers under Smith.
"We just picked up our defensive intensity," Westbrook said. "To be honest with you, I knew we were going to come back. I knew we had a tough team."
The Gophers are off to their best start since 1976-77, when Minnesota started 11-0.
Minnesota native Ryan Wittman led the Big Red with 21 points.
"We did not get the ball through their pressure and when we did and had some open looks, they didn't fall," Cornell coach Steve Donahue said. "Ryan did what he could do. He tries so hard and had some good makes today, but none of us had a good second half."
Cornell built a 12-point halftime lead thanks to Wittman's perimeter shooting. Minnesota led 20-17 midway through the first half before Wittman fueled a 23-8 run with three 3-pointers.
The Gophers, meanwhile, had trouble controlling the ball, and their 10 first-half turnovers led to 10 Big Red points.
Cornell went 0-for-13 from 3-point range after halftime.
"The first half we corked it up pretty good and in the second half we did a poor job," Donahue said.
Louis Dale, last year's Ivy League player of the year, saw his first action of the season after missing the Big Red's first eight games with an injured hamstring. Dale fouled out at the 9:21 mark, finishing with three points on 1-of-5 shooting.
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