Minnesota started off with a lot of problems.

Three players, including two high-profile recruits, are still sidelined because of off-court drama.

And the Gophers still found a way to outplay No. 12 Butler in every way. Last year the Cardinals. This year a bunch of Bulldogs.

From the sidelines, the game wasn't as close as the final 82-73 margin.

The Gophers attacked the glass. They blocked and altered shots. They defended the three-point line.

They outscored Butler in the paint 28-16. They got 46 points from their bench. They scored 50. In the second half.

They forced 21 turnovers against a Butler team that doesn't turn the ball over very often.

Since Portland's the only team standing in their way, they'll have a good shot at making Sunday's championship game.

Performances by Colton Iverson (11 points, 10 rebounds in the first half), Devoe Joseph (14 points) and Blake Hoffarber (12 points, 3-for-5 from the three-point line) are proof that Minnesota has true depth this season.

The definition of true depth: reliable bench production.

Rodney Williams played three minutes. Three minutes. They still won.

Foul trouble. They still won.

12-to-17 assist-to-turnover ratio. W.

While I'm very impressed by Iverson's output, I think tonight's game is just another example of Tubby Smith's coaching ability.

This is what separates Smith and an elite group of NCAA coaches from everyone else.

In the moment. On a big stage. They're golden.

Smith inserted reserves in the first half when he sensed that his starters were a bit jittery. It worked. The bench pulled the Gophers out of a 12-7 hole.

Smith put Ralph Sampson III next to Iverson. Butler didn't have the size for that lineup.

Smith gave up size and athleticism by playing Hoffarber for 35 minutes, but he kept moving him off high screens and he eventually found room to shoot.

If the charges against Trevor Mbakwe are dropped and he returns to the team soon, the Gophers will certainly have a talent pool that rivals the crews that Michigan State, Purdue and Ohio State field every game.

It's early. But this is a huge win.

-Minnesota athletic director Joel Maturi flew down with the team. "We're going to get better," he said after the game.

-Gophers fans outnumbered Butler fans. There was a lot of maroon and gold in the stands. Very good showing.

-Al Nolen picked up a technical foul because of a reaction to a foul call in the second half. That's certainly out of character for him.

-Williams barely played because of foul trouble. But he'll have two more games to impress the dozen or so NBA scouts who attended the 76 Classic.

-When a Miley Cyrus song came on in the Anaheim Convention Center, a bunch of Gophers players got excited. Don't know what that's all about.

-Dan Monson's Long Beach State team plays Clemson Friday. Minnesota fired Monson after a 22-point loss against Clemson in 2006. Interesting.

-Final observation: I think UCLA's fans just quit after a huge loss against Portland. Greg Oden didn't even play.

-Just learned in a conversation with former NBA ref: Starting salaries for NBA refs is over $90,000. Top guys can make more than $400,000 per year. PAC 10 refs making $950 (plus expenses) in the 76 Classic.

 

 

 

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