Tonight was the game the Gophers needed if they were to regain relevancy.
The Big Ten has ensured they aren't out of it, but after three straight losses to three straight average teams, Minnesota was teetering on the brink of a collapse. That isn't to say that tonight is a definite turnaround, but it was a big, big win simply because of the place the Gophers would be with a loss.
*The Gophers finished strong
*They made adjustments at the half
*They got a great game from DeAndre Mathieu
*They showed some positive developments appear to be trends (ahem ... Mo Walker)
*Andre Hollins' health appears to be improving
All of those things were huge in securing the victory. The Gophers were far from perfect in the first half, but locked down better defensively in the second, particularly late. Noah Vonleh and Yogi Ferrell had just eight and four points, respectively, in the second. Mo Walker is showing us that he didn't just have a few lucky games -- he's here to stay, and he might be one of the better offensive presences in the post in the league. Mathieu is huge to the Gophers' success, and he steered the win tonight, with an outing that Pitino called almost flawless.
The atmosphere was great. Rick Pitino was in the house. So was Clem Haskins (for a 1988-89 team reunion). And also, a chicken. There are reasons to feel good if you're a Gophers fan. There is still plenty of work to do -- Minnesota has exposed a plethora of flaws in the last three games, many of which we saw again tonight (ahem, 18 second-chance points for Indiana on 11 offensive rebounds). But the Gophers still have opportunities ahead to build an NCAA-caliber season.
Other notes from the win:
*The elder Pitino hung out with a chicken tonight. See my story above.
*Richard Pitino was very excited to throw the Gophers' solid second-half D at me in the postgame presser. As he sat down, he scanned the room, found me and retorted: "Where is she? There she is. Well that defense was far from atrocious, I’d say. And I’m not letting it go ... Defensively, I thought we were tremendous and I thought that’s what won us the game. We turned them over, not just in the press but in the halfcourt. I have to give credit to my staff, they did a great job in scouting and we sniffed out a lot of their actions."
*Might I point out that great second-half defense was man-to-man, not zone. Ahem.
*Andre Hollins said he feels like he's at about 90 percent health-wise tonight. "I felt a lot better today," he said. "Thanks to my trainer Ben Felds, he's been getting me right and going at it for two and a half weeks."