This team is rolling now – and it’s a good thing, because the tests continue on Saturday.
The Gophers handled Illinois on the road on Wednesday, showcasing both their poise -- overcoming a late surge by the Illini -- and their ability to dominate, as they did down the stretch.
It’s only going to get tougher from here for Minnesota, so a win here can’t be understated.
Joe Coleman was the hero tonight, but as well all know, that’s a quick-changing title with this squad. In the first half, it looked like it would be Trevor Mbakwe – whose aggressiveness inside along with the strong Minnesota D helped the Gophers to their first 11-point lead. But as the Illini made a comeback, bringing the deficit to just two, it was the transition game that took the Gophers to the victory.
And wow did Coleman look good there. He scored 24 of his 29 (career-high) points in the second half and effectively put the game out of reach.
Some other notes from tonight’s 84-67 win:
- Mbakwe is back. This should not be a discussion anymore. The center just dominated the paint in the first half, provided the leadership the Gophers needed and finished with his fourth double-double of the season.
- The Gophers’ defense was huge in the first half and made it evident why this team has gotten to this point. Minnesota held hot-shooting Illinois to just 27.6 percent shooting from the field in the first and 35.4 overall. Illinois didn’t know how to deal with it.
- There was a strange play early in the game in which Brandon Paul dunked over Trevor Mbakwe and got called for the charge – and yet the points still counted. This seeming mistake by the officials was never corrected.
- The Gophers’ shooting deficiencies – if that’s still a point of conversation – were very much absent tonight, as Minnesota shot 52.9 percent from the field and 60 percent (9 of 15) from 3-point range.
- Turnovers, however, continued to plague them – the Gophers had 15 to Illinois’ 8. Even so, Illinois got 17 points off Minnesota’s miscues, while the Gophers’ cashed in an better proportionate 14.
- With the win, the Gophers start league play 3-0. which the program hasn't done since the 1974-75 team (the 1996-97 team did as well, but those records have been vacated).