This always happens, of course.


Things start going well, Minnesota fans start fueling up on optimistic thoughts about their favorite teams, and then the hammer falls -- or at least a brief stretch of rough play tempers that enthusiasm.

What makes the past week so disturbing is that the hammer has fallen on so many teams. Let's take a look:

*Gophers men's basketball: They entered the tourney in Maui knowing it would be their stiffest test of the season to date. They looked capable in playing close against Syracuse and again looked competent in leading Arkansas at halftime on Tuesday. Then all of their flaws were exposed in one half -- soft interior D, questions about ball security, limited depth -- and suddenly we're reminded that they are what we thought they were: a team that should improve but that has many limitations as Richard Pitino attempts to implement his style.

*Gophers football: Not all momentum is lost here by any stretch after a 20-7 loss to Wisconsin. But a week ago there were grandiose thoughts of a major bowl game -- heck, even the possibility of playing Michigan State on Saturday for the right to go to the Big Ten title game.

*Timberwolves: One week ago Tuesday, the Wolves went into Washington with a 7-4 record looking like one of the most-improved teams in the NBA. But a stretch of four losses in five games as the schedule has tightened up leaves the Wolves at .500 and many of us wondering if a squad that blows out bad teams can also win the close ones against better teams.

*Wild: The team is still sitting pretty with its overall record (15-6-4), even after a loss to St. Louis on Monday. But a brutal Western Conference means that playing the next 2-3 weeks without the injured Zach Parise while also figuring out a way to keep its goalies healthy makes this a critical stretch.

*Twins: OK, nothing has really happened here in the last week. But during free agency, with a team that has lost at least 96 games each of the past three seasons, no real news is not good news.

*Vikings: As noted before, the tie against the Packers could be the blow that knocks Green Bay out of the playoffs eventually. So Sunday's 26-26 draw isn't all bad. But they still blew a 23-7 lead and didn't get the satisfaction of beating their rivals ... while still falling in the potential draft positioning. Had they lost, they would hold the tiebreaker and have the No. 1 pick if the season ended today. As it is now, they would pick fourth.

*Gophers men's hockey: It was inevitable with a young team, but the Gophers put up their first real clunker of the season on Sunday, a 6-2 home loss to Minnesota-Duluth.

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