Say what you will about the Gophers flaws that are still hovering around this talented squad (and there certainly are some), but there’s no denying that this trip was a definite success for the Gophers.
They took two of three in a very talented field, and the only team that does better than that will be the one that wins the Duke-Louisville matchup tonight.
At the same time, we saw three really great things:
1) That Rodney Williams will be a big factor consistently, and regardless of who the Gophers play.
2) That Andre Hollins still has the capacity to take over, and do it in a big way (and against a good team)
3) That Trevor Mbakwe still has it – that guy who many said the Gophers tournament hopes rest on, is still there.
Let’s focus on that last one for now since it was so apparent in this victory over Stanford today.
What improvement we’ve seen in the last couple games from Mbakwe, who finished today with 19 points and 12 rebounds in by far the most impressive outing we’ve seen from him this year.
“He was impressive,” Stanford coach Johnny Dawkins said. “I thought he had a presence on the floor. He rebounded well, he scored around the basket. I think he’s going to give them the added dimension they’ve were missing last year.”
Mbakwe, who showed flashes yesterday in a strong second half, exhibited some of the explosiveness we’ve been missing today, and did a great job battling under the basket, getting to the line and hustling. At one point late in the second half, Mbakwe – in going after a ball – jumped up on and then over the press row table and into the stands on the other side.
It was a very, very encouraging performance considering how badly the Gophers need him.
Other notes from the 66-63 win over Stanford:
• What a crazy finish. With 14.3 seconds left on the clock, the game was tied at 63, but after Andre Hollins regained a ball that was deflected and nearly stolen by Dwight Powell, he was fouled by Chasson Randle as he threw up a Hail Mary shot at the buzzer.
• Said Dawkins of the play: “I think he was emotionally excited. It was a very heated and competitive game and the young man wanted to make a play. And unfortunately, he got a little too close to the shooter.”
• The Gophers got to the line an impressive 35 times today, making 26 of them. Coach Tubby Smith said that has been a real focus he’s pressed upon the team this season.
• It was good to see a little more offensive production from Joe Coleman, who hasn’t made a big impact on that side of the game recently. The sophomore finished with 11 points and four rebounds (although he also had four turnovers).
• I’m getting a little tired of writing this in every postgame blog, but the Gophers are still struggling a lot with turnovers. Had 18 again today, despite all the other things they did well. They had just seven assists.
• The Gophers held Stanford to 1-for-15 shooting from the field to start the second half, before Robbie Lemons made a three-pointer to bring the Cardinal within five. The Gophers were leading by eight until that point, when Stanford went on a 13-4 run to retake the advantage at the 7:49 minute mark. The Gophers didn’t take the lead again until Mbakwe converted a layup with 2:59 left. All-in-all, though, the Gophers held Stanford to 35.6 percent shooting for the game.
• As I mentioned earlier, Williams was again consistent, though not quite as good as usual on the board (Mbakwe picked up the extras). He finished with 12 points and 4 rebounds.
• Stanford fouled the Gophers beyond the arc THREE times. The last one was obviously the last play of the game on Andre Hollins, and the first two on Maverick Ahanmisi in a span of two minutes. The Gophers netted eight points from those three plays.
• Dawkins on Randle after the foul on Andre Hollins: “It's difficult for any young man to be involved in a play like that. I think at some point in time, at some level, for all these athletes who play so much basketball, they're all involved in a play like that. It's one of the most difficult plays to live with. He has to understand it's never decided on the last play. That's just fiction. That play didn't decide the game for us. There were other times when we fouled jump shooters and you need to accumulate the free throws they made on those. It didn't decide the ballgame. It is a culmination of plays that adds up to that."