Talk about good timing.
After the Gophers dropped to seventh place in the Big Ten and fell 11 spots in the Associated Press poll Monday, the level of concern with the team, both inside the program and out, had reached the boiling point.
Then Nebraska -- a sight for sore Gophers eyes -- came to town Tuesday night, and proved to be just what Minnesota needed to get back on track.
Relying heavily on their defensive pressure, the No. 23 Gophers took control early and overwhelmed the Cornhuskers 84-65 in front of an announced crowd of 12,672 at Williams Arena to break their four-game losing streak.
Senior forward Rodney Williams (a season-high 23 points, five rebounds), shaking off a two-game slump in which he'd scored a total of nine points, came within one point of his career high in his most aggressive game of the season. Andre Hollins (14 points) and Austin Hollins (13) joined the party with solid performances.
In the locker room afterward, it seemed a cloud had been lifted from the players' countenances, having put away -- at least temporarily -- the demons of the past two weeks.
"Oh yeah, there's definitely relief," Williams said. "I think we just needed this one win to get us going again."
That certainly might be true of the forward, who rebounded impressively from his worst game of the season, when he scored only two points and went 0-for-6 from the field in a 45-44 loss at Wisconsin on Saturday.
But within the first few seconds of Tuesday's game, it was evident Williams and the Gophers were determined to reverse their direction. Williams scored eight of the team's first nine points, dunking twice, and by halftime had compiled 19 points and four rebounds. Many possessions were run through the forward, but Williams also asserted himself by hitting the boards and getting to the free-throw line, where he went a surprising 6-for-6.
Gophers coach Tubby Smith said he decided before the game to run some plays for the struggling senior to try to get him going.
"I think when we spread out the floor a little bit, it opened it up for him," Austin Hollins said. "We were setting a lot more screens, we were moving a lot more on offense. When you get that movement, it makes the defense work, and I think [Williams] got open through that."
The Gophers (16-5, 4-4 Big Ten) had only six turnovers, a season low. Hot-shooting guard Ray Gallegos (20 points in the first half, 30 for the game) kept Nebraska within nine points (44-35) at halftime -- helping the Huskers shoot 63.6 percent in the first half.
Minnesota, meanwhile, was scoring in bunches: scoring off offensive rebounds, throwing down a barrage of dunks and taking advantage of Nebraska's inability to guard the pick-and-roll.
"You always need games where guys feel good about themselves," Smith said. "Lord knows we've had enough negative over the last two weeks, enough garbage."
Beating Nebraska (11-11, 2-7) was certainly a modest accomplishment, but after consecutive losses to ranked Indiana and Michigan at home and on the road against unranked Northwestern and Wisconsin, the Gophers seemed revived.
"This team, we're mature, we've all been through the wildfire the last couple years and we don't want that to happen again," senior forward Trevor Mbakwe said. "We still have a chance to be at the top of the conference and it's up to us, really."