The Gophers said they'd started a new season when the got into the NIT. And they have whole-heartedly treated it as such, winning three consecutive games on the road to advance to the NIT Final Four at Madison Square Garden in New York.
Minnesota will face Washington in the semifinals at 8 p.m. on Tuesday.
Some notes on tonight's 78-72 win:
- Two players had career-highs in points: Rodney Williams -- who extended his 20-point streak to four games -- with 24, and Elliott Eliason, with 12. Eliason also had seven rebounds, two steals and two blocks.
- More on Williams: suddenly, he is a superstar. Making great cuts to the basket. Flying over bodies for dunks and layups. Using the athleticism we've always known he has had. It's been fun to watch, and exciting to think about for next year. Williams only had three rebounds but added a pair of steals and a pair of blocks.
- Andre Hollins closed the game out with four consecutive free throws, making him a perfect 8-for-8 from the free throw line. The freshman finished with 24 points in yet another game that made me shake my head at just how quickly he's maturing. Hollins had just four points in the first half, but his ability to adjust in-game has been critical to this team's recent success. He scored 20 in the second, was aggressive, got to the line and helped push the Gophers over the hump. Hollins had six rebounds and four assists -- to two turnovers -- as well.
- I love the up-tempo pace this team is playing with -- and perhaps more importantly, sustaining. They looked great in transition once again tonight and never really went through a lull. From start to finish, the intensity was palpable. It's what coach Tubby Smith has been wanting to do all year, but we're just not starting to really see it, and it's been very effective. The other thing I'm seeing that I like a lot is Minnesota's patience -- the willingness to make the extra pass, and wait for the good shot.
- The Gophers have improved in a lot of areas in March -- a stretch in which they've gone 5-1 -- but turnovers is not one of them. The Gophers had 14 tonight and continue to hang around that range. Lately, they've been scoring proficiently enough to overcome the hiccups, but that's still something that will need to be addressed.
- Middle Tennessee's tenacity impressed me at the end, stretching that final minute and a half out to give themselves a shot. Truthfully, the reaching-across-the-endline-for-a-foul thing was a cheap way to finish it, I thought, but you've got to give the Gophers credit for knocking down all the FTs they did in that loud building.
- The Gophers haven't made it to the NIT semifinals since 2003.