Leonard will be one of the toughest matchups for the Gophers tonight
They messed up their first chance, but tonight the Gophers get a second shot at Illinois.
It’s a critical game for a team coming off a disheartening loss at Michigan State after winning three straight. The Gophers have to go on the road after this, and when they come back they’ll be playing Ohio State and Wisconsin.
After playing the Illini to double overtime, the Gophers have to be believing this is a good matchup for them.
Three things to look for tonight:
1.More toughness. The team we’ve praised for being more physical in recent weeks just got beat up by the powerful Spartan’s frontcourt. The Gophers might not face as physical a team as Michigan State again all year, but if they can learn from the loss they’ll be better off.
2.Get back to better shooting. The difference between when the Gophers win and when they don’t? Shooting. That means three-pointers, mid-range jumpshots and simple layups. The Gophers got sloppy against Michigan State, and need to get back to the basics against Illinois.
3.Redemption. Or perhaps this bullet should just be labeled “execution.” Simple failure to execute was the difference in the first game, when the Gophers missed a layup and two free throws to ice the game in the final seconds. The little things will be key tonight.
“It’s important,” coach Tubby Smith said. “It’s a huge game for us, we’ve got to embrace the challenge. And I expect guys to come ready to play.”
·Watch tonight’s game on Big Ten Network.
·Listen to tonight’s game live on 1500ESPN or here.
Marcus Fuller joined the Star Tribune in 2016 after 11 years covering Gophers sports – and just about every other team and league in town -- for the St. Paul Pioneer Press. Before making the Twin Cities his home, Marcus spent two years in The Kansas City Star sports department. Marcus grew up in Hawaii and is a 2002 graduate of San Jose State. Follow Fuller on Twitter @Marcus_R_Fuller.