Any echoes of Ke$ha’s “Die Young” the Gophers packed up and took with them to Iowa have long made their way out of the locker room.
Forget feel-good moments and a grind-it-out victory against a big rival in a time of big need – the Gophers need a major turnaround, a change in status quo and significant adjustments if they are going to salvage this season.
If the Gophers can’t come in prepared and motivated following a momentous win and heading into a huge stretch, I don’t know when they will.
The most discouraging part of Minnesota’s loss – which coach Tubby Smith called the most embarrassing of his career and Trevor Mbakwe called the toughest game he’s played in – was of course, that it came down to the same issues that have plagued the Gophers all year long -- the issues that their losses have been dictated by and their wins have been in spite of:
2. Perimeter defense
3. Poor shooting
4. Zone penetration
Obviously, the biggest problem for the Gophers today was their ability to attack the zone – any zone and all zones.
Minnesota led 21-5 before Iowa’s Fran McCaffery decided to break out the Gophers’ kryptonite. Ten minutes later, the Minnesota lead was gone, the Hawkeyes having executed a 24-6 run as the Gophers piled on turnovers (including six in one span of 2:23), and – unable to get the ball inside – forced jumpers late in the shot clock.
The zone is something the Gophers deal with quite frequently in the Big Ten, and play themselves at times. So their consistent struggles with it are somewhat baffling.
Afterward, the Gophers’ strategy and preparation for the zone defense occupied much of the postgame interview sessions. Some of the team’s thoughts:
On how the Gophers prepared coming in: “They [Iowa} do a good job in it – they were very impressive and very physical and it boils down to the basic fundamentals of coming to meet passes and just not being in a hurry, being more patient. We do normal things we do with any team as you prepare.”
On attacking the zone and Smith playing Eliason for extended minutes: “Elliott Eliason is our best player vs the zone because he’s willing to pass it, he’s willing to get in the gap … We had some opportunities, we beat it a couple times and we got our shot blocked at the rim and they were pretty much intimidated after that.”
On the team’s preparation: “We work on it. We play a 2-3. We play a 3-2. We press. I don’t know what to say.”
On whether the team started to panic once they failed to penetrate the zone: “It was ‘Don’t give it to me.’ It was like a hot potato. Get it to someone else, someone else try it. That’s what it became. We try to get organized and run certain offenses against certain zones … Basically against any zone, you just have to pick and probe, inside-out, it’s not hard.”
“We knew what was going to happen – last time we played Iowa we got a quick start and they went zone and it was kind of tough for us to bounce back from that.”
On the team’s struggles to get the ball inside the zone: I think that was one of the reasons they went zone. We had an advantage inside and we were able to get some easy baskets to start and they tried to take it away and forced us to take perimeter shots and we didn’t get a lot of good shots up and we had a lot of shot-clock violations and shots we had to force up at the end. I think that was one of the reasons because of the quick start we got off to in the paint.
On whether the team panicked: “I don’t think we ever panicked. We had some open looks out of the zone but we weren’t making any shots out of it, so what we had to do was get stuck going toward the basket and we didn’t do that. We should have gotten it inside more and we should have got some fouls in there and gotten them in foul trouble.”
- Rodney Williams played just ten minutes tonight and never attempted a shot. Smith took him out in the first half and never put him back in, saying afterward that he thought the forward’s left shoulder – which has been sore for more than a week -- was bothering him. Williams was not made available afterward. “He was just not himself,” Smith said. “I don’t know whether he got hit on it or what, but he didn’t seem to have much in his tank. He’s a guy I play with one arm and I don’t want to hurt him any worse than he’s already hurt.”