A loss like last night’s makes you think about the past. A missed opportunity like that – in the face of a tough, tough road ahead -- makes you think again about what could have been; how this season could be different.
And there are very specific examples that come to mind -- a flood of ruined chances:
At Illinois: I’ve long wondered what would have happened if the Gophers’ had won that first game of the season. It was similar to last night. Momentum was on their side and the huge opportunity – to “steal” a road win – was there. But the Gophers crumbled at the end of regulation, missing free throws and a layup, and failed to convert again in OT.
At Michigan: Would the Gophers have been able to find the mojo they needed had they won in Champaign? Or were we just starting to see legitimate execution issues? The Gophers were within one point with two minutes remaining. But Minnesota had a critical turnover and missed its final two shots to lose by five.
Iowa at home: The Gophers had an 11-point lead in the first half. But down the stretch and against the zone, they fell apart. Then, after they had fallen behind by 8 with a minute left, the Gophers made a final push, impressively getting within two. It would have been nice four minutes earlier, but as it was, there wasn’t enough time. They lost 64-62.
Purdue at home: What happened here can only really be explained by the previous three losses. The Gophers were reeling, and it showed. Since that game, the Boilermakers have gone 2-5, but the Gophers gave them no contest on their own home court. Minnesota never led after the 2 minute mark, trailing by as many as 18 points and eventually falling by 13.
Iowa on the road: Twice to this team?? Even worse, it was like some rewound the tape, put these teams in a different setting and replayed the tape. The Gophers had a 10-point lead in the second half when the Hawkeyes made a push and Minnesota looked helpless to stop it. They lost 63-59.
Last night, Wisconsin at home: The Gophers were getting killed in the first half, and were at the peak of their suffering halfway through the second when Andre Hollins led an unexpected and momentous surge. But with two chances to win it in regulation, the Gophers’ shots fell short, and in overtime they simply didn’t play well, to put it shortly, losing by 7.
Had the Gophers won just half of these missed chances, they would be looking at an 8-4 conference record with almost a sure chance of getting into the tournament. Instead, it’s looking like a very tough, tough challenge.
That’s not to say the Gophers CAN’T do it. But they WON’T if they play like they did in the six games listed above.