Sid Hartman: Gophers throw away sure tournament bid

  • Article by: SID HARTMAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 7, 2009 - 11:40 PM

Saturday's loss to Michigan at home means they'll have to make an impression in the Big Ten tournament.

When the Gophers were upset by Michigan at home on Saturday, they likely blew a chance to get into one of the most inferior NCAA competitions in years.

No, we are not saying the Gophers had any chance to win the Final Four. But they could have advanced a round or two. Coach Tubby Smith feels they had talent to do that.

When you see a team like Texas Tech upset the defending NCAA champion Kansas, Michigan beat a good Duke team, and North Carolina getting beat by Boston College and Wake Forest -- and even the Gophers beating Louisville -- it certainly proves that on any given night, even a team like the Gophers could advance in the NCAA if it got the opportunity. The odds are that the Gophers won't get that chance now.

Look back on Saturday's loss, and even Smith was shocked that the Gophers lost while shooting 55 percent and outrebounding Michigan 30-13. The big edge to Michigan was they outshot the Gophers 9-for-22 to 2-for-10 when it came to three-point shots.

"Today's game had a lot of postseason implications," Smith said about the Gophers possibly losing out on an NCAA tournament berth they could have clinched with a victory.

"We had a lot of turnovers, and that really hurt us. Michigan also shot the ball really well," he said. "I've never coached a game where we shot 55 percent, and outrebounded our opponent, and still ended up on the losing end. The turnovers just take so much out of you."

Then there was the situation when Lawrence Westbrook sank a tying three-pointer that might have sent the game into overtime, except that Smith had called a timeout an instant before Westbrook took the shot.

Asked if he'd seen anything like that happen to him before in a game, Smith replied, "No, I don't think I have."

On calling the timeout at the end, Smith said: "I usually call a timeout when we only have a few seconds left. With a few seconds left, I want to make sure we have a good look."

Asked if he had heard Smith call timeout, Westbrook said: "No. I thought I had tied the game. I was kind of surprised. I knew there was only six seconds left, and if I got a shot off it was going to have to be from deep. It went in, and thought we had tied it, so I was getting ready to run back on D. At first, I thought I had tied the game."

Michigan coach John Beilein was surprised his team won the game after trailing by 12 points two different times. "[I don't think] I've ever seen a team that got outrebounded 30-13 and won the game," he said. "But we played some solid defense and forced turnovers. Those 18 times we got the ball back is 18 times that they didn't get to shoot on that possession. It was like that on the road all season, and we came away with the win. The last two road games were just like this and didn't go ur way. This one did. "

Well, Smith still sees hope making it to the NCAA tournament, and if the Gophers win two rounds like they did last year in the Big Ten tournament, maybe they'll surprise the NCAA Selection Committee.

Decker is in great spot

Some 50 scouts, including Terry Ryan of the Twins, were at the Big East-Big Ten baseball tournament in Florida two weeks ago and watched one of the great two- sport collegiate athletes in outfielder Eric Decker, who put on quite a show.

After the tournament, he was hitting .514 for the Gophers and had been putting on a running exhibition on the bases.

Decker, who didn't play baseball in college until last season, is in a great position in that he can be drafted in June 2010 to sign a pro baseball contract, play some pro baseball, then play receiver for the Gophers football team, then wait until the football draft and choose between the two. He was drafted 39th last year by the Brewers, but he became a free agent when he wasn't signed by last Aug. 16.

NCAA rules allow a college athlete to play pro in one sport and keep eligibility in another in hopes of landing a better pro contract.

Jottings

Smith on the Gophers seniors, who were honored Saturday at Williams Arena: "I'm really proud of Jon [Williams] and Jamal [Abu-Shamala]. Jon had a tough season. He had hernia surgeries and some tough injuries. Jamal is the best student-athlete we have. He's a great representative of our team. They both did some good things today. I've enjoyed coaching them both."

People close to Lamonte Edwards say the outstanding Woodbury running back might commit to the Gophers today. Wisconsin, Iowa and Alabama are among schools offering him scholarships.

Michigan has definitely scheduled Michigan State in an outdoor hockey game in the Big House on Dec. 11, 2010. A game in 2001 at Michigan State drew 74,544 fans. And the Gophers and Wisconsin are also going to stage outdoor hockey games in their respective stadiums in the near future. And Gophers athletic director Joel Maturi said the Gophers will stage an outdoor hockey game in the new stadium in either 2010 or 2011. Maturi said he will try and make it a big outdoor hockey week with high schools, colleges and even the Wild participating. "We'll invite a school outside of the WCHA, maybe somebody like Boston College," Maturi said.

Dominique Dawson, an outstanding 6-7 Minneapolis Southwest basketball player who is averaging 21.9 points a game, has signed a walk-on paper to attend Minnesota next season. Brian Smith, son of Tubby, is assistant coach at Southwest. ... Going into Friday's game in Los Angeles, the Timberwolves' Mike Miller was averaging 13.4 points, 8.1 rebounds and 5.9 assists per game in the nine games since the All-Star break. Miller is the only player in the NBA averaging at least 13 points, eight rebounds and five assists per game since the break. On the season, Miller is averaging 9.9 points, 6.1 rebounds and 4.1 assists. Miller is one of just five players in the league to average at least nine points, six rebounds and four assists per game this season. The others are LeBron James, Caron Butler, Andre Iguodala and Jason Kidd.

Engen Nurumbi, who left the Gophers basketball team in 2007, is the leading scorer (15 points per game) and rebounder (6.7 per game) at NCAA Division II Grand Canyon University in Phoenix. Grand Canyon went 13-14 this season.

Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on WCCO AM-830 at 6:40, 7:40 and 8:40 a.m. and on his Podcast once a week at www.startribune.com/sidcast. shartman@startribune.com

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