Nebraska coach Tim Miles used more than half of his post-game press conference Thursday night to praise the Gophers basketball team.
A year ago, the Cornhuskers beat Minnesota by 25 points. They lost 88-73 this year in Minnesota’s final home game – and it wasn’t even that close.
That makes eight straight victories, the same amount of wins the Gophers had all of last season. This was the first time Miles played Richard Pitino’s team this year to see how much it had improved.
“I want to start off by saying, Richard Pitino has done a great job with his team,” Miles said. “Last year, they were at the depths of all depths. And he kept Nate (Mason), Jordan (Murphy), and Dupree (McBrayer), and all those guys going. He was able to add those transfers in (Reggie Lynch and Akeem Springs) and Amir Coffey in. It's a well put together team. It’s a team that looks to me like it can make runs in any tournament they’re going to be in, because they got length and athleticism inside. Makes it very hard to score on.”
Mason, Murphy and McBrayer combined for 61 points Thursday against Nebraska. You don’t think they remembered how much the Cornhuskers embarrassed them in Lincoln last year, trailing by 38 points at one point in the second half back then.
“Being a returner and coming from last year, you can really see the growth that we’ve had,” said Murphy, who finished with 20 points and 11 rebounds. “Even though we have new players, the returners never forgot about last season. It was in the back of our mind, every practice and every rep in a drill.”
Miles and Pitino are friends. They talked during Minnesota’s tough season in 2015-16 about how much his players could be better after learning from adversity.
“Richard and his staff have done a great job hanging in there after such a difficult season last year,” Miles said. “That’s awesome the Gophers fans coming out to support them. I’ve watched Gophers basketball for a long, long time and it’s a very exciting thing for fans.”
BLOCK NATION: Reggie Lynch had his ninth game this season with at least five blocks, finishing with six blocks Thursday against Nebraska. He extends his program single-season record now with 101 blocks, which tied Calvin Booth’s 1995-96 season for the ninth best in Big Ten history.
Lynch also finished with 11 points on 5-for-6 shooting, to go with six rebounds and tying a career-high with three steals in 28 minutes. The Edina native hasn’t fouled out in four straight games after Thursday night, which is the longest stretch since the nonconference season.
ON THE OFFENSIVE: The Gophers shot 55.9 percent from the field against Nebraska, their highest shooting percentage for a Big Ten game this season. They were just 5-for-14 from three-point range, but they shot 28-for-45 from inside the arc (62 percent) and scored 48 points in the paint.
Minnesota has scored 80 or more points in four straight Big Ten games, the longest stretch for the team since the 2001-02 season.
SEED SCENARIO: The Gophers control their own destiny Sunday with a win at Wisconsin, which would give them a double-bye and No. 2 seed in the Big Ten tournament next week in Washington D.C.
If the Badgers win Sunday and Michigan State beats Maryland, then the Gophers would fall to a No. 5 seed and play Thursday in the conference tourney. If the Badgers win and Michigan State loses, then the Gophers get a No. 4 seed and play Friday.