Minnesota's Rodney Williams (33) was blocked by Northwestern's John Shurna (24) and Reggie Hearn (11) during the first half Saturday in Evanston, Ill.
Charles Cherney, Associated Press
NORTHWESTERN 64, GOPHERS 53 Up next: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday vs. No. 7 Michigan State BTN (1500-AM)
Nothing clicks for U in Northwestern loss
- Article by: AMELIA RAYNO
- Star Tribune
- February 19, 2012 - 10:13 AM
EVANSTON, ILL. — The Gophers haven't given up on fixing the engine, but they might not have the right tools in the box.
Saturday, another new lineup brought the same old result. And with the creaking Gophers train grinding its wheels and spewing black smoke, the tracks ahead look more dangerous than ever.
Gophers coach Tubby Smith's eighth starting lineup -- replacing Andre Hollins with Oto Osenieks -- proved to be no more effective than the previous seven. In a game that had big meaning for both bubble teams, Northwestern's lineup was the one that did all the clicking.
John Shurna -- who scored 18 points and became Northwestern's all-time leading scorer -- showed himself as the leader the Gophers wished they had in a 64-53 Wildcats victory that left the Gophers (15-10, 5-9 Big Ten) in a dire situation and Smith visibly frustrated with his team.
"I hope they felt pressure," he said of his team, which got just 13 total points from lineup mainstays Rodney Williams, Ralph Sampson III and Austin Hollins. "That's what the game is about, that's what the sport is all about, measuring yourself against pressure.
"The great players, they want more pressure, the good players, they want that challenge, they seek it. They embrace it. Obviously we don't."
The Gophers wasted chances with 21 turnovers and got only seven second-chance points and four fast-break points despite doubling the Wildcats in rebounds, 41-20.
The Gophers led only once in the first half, and most of the time they looked a step behind the Wildcats despite a quiet early performance from Shurna, who missed the only three shots he attempted in the game's first 16 minutes.
But after that, the Gophers couldn't hold him back any more than he could allow himself to stay down. And when Shurna got going, neither he nor the Wildcats looked back. With 3:40 left in the first half, the senior got a steal, ran down the court for a dunk and then let loose. In that stretch, Shurna scored 12 consecutive points, including two three-pointers, for the Wildcats, who jumped out to a 36-28 lead at the break.
"Good players will find a way," Smith said, in a thinly veiled comparison to his own leaders' lackluster performance. "You make one miscue or you make a mistake defensively, he's going to murder you. And we made a number of mistakes defensively."
With 11 minutes left, the Gophers had cut the deficit to seven points, but following Julian Welch's deficit-shrinking three-pointer, Shurna responded by nailing a three of his own -- a shot that gave him 1,902 points, more than any other player in Wildcats history. The crowd erupted with cheers, signs and giant cutouts of Shurna's face, and the spontaneous celebration simultaneously acted as a puncture to the Gophers' sails.
The Gophers got solid performances from Welch, who had five three-pointers, and Joe Coleman, who broke a four-game scoreless streak with a 12-point outing, and were able to get the deficit under double digits once more, but consecutive turnovers sealed their fate, and the team's NCAA tournament future is very much in doubt.
"I honestly don't know," Welch said of the Gophers' chances. "It probably got a lot worse with that loss to Northwestern. ... Every loss hurts, especially this one because we're on the bubble and what-not. It just hurts, that's about it."
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