Read my full game story on Minnesota's 52-49 loss at Nebraska on Tuesday night here.
Three quick observations before I try to find a late-night glass of something in this town:
It's kind of unbelievable. Of the Gophers' six conference losses, a stunning five of them have come by two possessions or fewer. Is Minnesota terrible? Is Minnesota on the verge of being great? It's all very mind-numbing, although I think most are leaning toward the former right now, especially after that performance. On the one hand, the Gophers have competed with EVERYONE except for Maryland. On the other, it's, like, really basic things that have held them back from winning those games: Missing free throws. Failing to get big rebounds. Turning over the ball. Good teams don't do these things. And they definitely don't do them over and over again. Minnesota doesn't seem to have the killer instinct it needs to shut Big Ten teams down.
Black is white; white is black. Remember when we were talking about Andre Hollins' slump being one of the prime reasons for the Gophers' 0-5 start? Tonight, he was just about the only thing Minnesota had going. Carlos Morris, Mo Walker, Nate Mason and DeAndre Mathieu -- four of the team's other top six scorers -- all combined to go just 5-for-27 from the field. But even Hollins' strong start (13 points in the first half), cooled in the second as he went 2-for-10 from the field and 4-for-8 from the free-throw line in the second. I'm not great at math, but that doesn't seem like enough scoring.
Please don't call this a "great defensive battle." How good of a defensive team does one have to be to hold another high-major college basketball team scoreless from the field for seven-plus minutes. And BOTH teams did it. Coach Richard Pitino, trying to spin what he can these days, sat down at the postgame podium and announced that his team had just played its best execution game of the year. But what about the unforced turnovers? What about the repeated fouling? What about the ten missed free throws, giving the Gophers their lowest percentage (47.4) from the charity stripe of the year? It sounded like a coach trying to prop up the confidence of his team when all else has failed -- and can you blame him? Make no mistake: this one was sloppy on both ends, but just a little bit sloppier on the Gophers' side.
Gas! The reward for covering tonight's game was our first glance at the mysterious international power forward, Gaston Diedhiou, another big piece of the future the Gophers hope will be better than the present. It's clear he's still learning the system and the plays, but the raw talent and potential -- and most of all, for a small Minnesota team, the size -- is evident. If the Gophers continue this slide, we'll only see more and more of him.
*Joey King had an ice pack wrapped around his back as he got on the team bus to head to the airport. The power forward got an elbow to his shoulder blade late in the second half.