After tonight, there’s no disputing the fact: the Gophers are in a slump.
And oh, it’s a murky, sloppy swamp of a slump.
Three games, two very different versions of this Minnesota team displayed in each. At once they are aggressive, playing sound defense, pushing the tempo and excelling in transition. And the next minute, they’re unraveled – turning over the ball in bundles, forcing shots, playing scared.
Unfortunately for Minnesota, tonight saw more of the latter in an ugly 55-48 loss to Northwestern. Against the Wildcats’ 1-3-1 zone in the second half, the Gophers looked baffled, still unable to solve that defense in the slightest. Instead, with Northwestern taking away the Gophers’ inside pass and relegating them to the perimeter, Minnesota started flinging up desperation threes near the end, effectively sealing their fate.
After the game, the pile up of poor play spanning across three games had clearly taken its toll. An angry Tubby Smith again took the podium, riding his players hard once more. Outside the locker room, the players were quiet and solemn.
And even as the game was still going, the players appeared to bicker between plays, clearly frustrated by their own performances.
“When you’re losing, people point the finger, that’s the way it starts,” Smith said. “Instead of being it’s my fault, other things you have to deal with, you look at the refs, you look at the coach, it’s ‘somebody’s not doing something.’ And that’s what losers do.”
Some other notes on tonight's game:
- Tonight’s loss marks the fifth consecutive game the Gophers have lost at Welsh-Ryan Arena.
- Perhaps the greatest indicator of just how poorly they played was that Andre Hollins struggled so much (it might actually be his worst game in maroon and gold). Without their leader, the Gophers looked lost, and simply couldn’t muster enough offense to threaten Northwestern again after the Wildcats regained the lead in the second half. Hollins shot 2-for-9 and had six turnovers.
- The Gophers had a scary moment in the second half when Trevor Mbakwe fell after tipping in a ball, landing on his right wrist, which was recovering from a previous injury. The forward was laying on the floor for nearly a minute before getting up and walking off. He downplayed the injury after the game.
- Joe Coleman appeared to be limping some on his ankle (which he turned in the Indiana game). He missed a couple practices last week because of it. He wasn’t made available to the media after the game, so I didn’t get the chance to ask about it.
- The Gophers face Northwestern’s 1-3-1 defense at least twice a season, but still they seem no better able to attack it. Wednesday was no exception as it kept them completely off-balance.
- Free throws (along with the steady bullet-point of turnovers) were again an issue, but for both teams. The Gophers made seven of their 17 opportunities. Northwestern made 17 of 32.