That, Gophers fans, is it.
That is exactly what the team needs to do to be successful this season.
Let us look the facets:
*Minnesota lost one of its arguably best players -- in Andre Hollins -- on the first possession of the game. A year ago, that would have caused the team to self-implode. Not this time. The Gophers got big contributions from a few, and little contributions from just about everyone else. Six players finished with seven points or more.
*The emergence of Mo Walker makes this frontcourt truly interesting. Elliott Eliason has proven to be an elite shot-blocker an a game-changer on defense overall, but he's still learning offensively, and he's not always going to have a huge game. Tonight was one of those nights when the Nebraska native struggled a little bit, and Walker was there to take over. Coach Richard Pitino said he's made huge strides in practice in just in the past few weeks, and he's earned the court time -- making the leap from an average of 6.5 minutes a game against Purdue, Penn State, Michigan State and Ohio State to an average of 20.5 in the last two.
*[Correspondingly] The emergence of the frontcourt makes this team truly interesting. It was pretty clear that Wisconsin hadn't game-planned for that sort of post offense from this team, and they did a pretty poor job dealing with it. In the second half, Badgers' coach Bo Ryan was forced to dedicate a good amount of the defensive effort to the paint, where Minnesota outscored Wisconsin, 48-24, and the guards were able to take advantage.
*The guards were all aggressive, for the most part, especially in the second half. DeAndre Mathieu played incredibly well down the stretch, cutting through the Badger's defense and hitting some huge shots at the basket. Austin Hollins exercised his athleticism again, slamming down a pair of dunks, including this gem. Malik Smith hit the dagger with 39 seconds to go, and had a strong night overall. It was the backcourt at its best, and even without Andre Hollins, that's a dangerous thing. The Gophers offense was clicking in a magical way, Minnesota shot 58.9 percent from the field, and scored more than 80 against Wisconsin for the first time since Feb. 1994 (They outscored the Badgers, 109-78 in that one).
*The team played great all around defense. On the perimeter, where they held the Badgers to 5-of-20 shooting. Inside, where they allowed just 12 buckets. The Gophers got six steals, and held Wisconsin to 39.3 percent shooting in the first half, and 44 percent shooting overall. For an opponent who's highlight is their offensive efficiency, that's not bad.
Minnesota should be proud of this win. The Gophers had a hellacious four game stretch against four teams ranked in the top 15, and they came away 2-2. Tonight, the Gophers played as well as I've seen them play all season. They gutted out a huge game and one they frankly had a bit of an excuse to lose (two excuses if you count Eliason's "off" night). That sets them up pretty nicely for the road ahead, which shouldn't be too much less challenging.