Wednesday night was a "make us believe in you" game for the Gophers men's basketball team -- the kind of game, let's face it, that often goes the wrong direction for Minnesota sports teams.
You know what we mean: a team without major expectations gets off to a nice start, and suddenly the fans get interested. Then a big-time opponent comes to town, and everyone is ready to go all-in with a victory ... but instead a letdown happens.
Think 2003 Gophers football ... think 2006 Twins in the playoffs ... think any number of Vikings seasons.
Maybe it's because Richard Pitino isn't from around here, but my goodness that was not a performance Wednesday that indicated any type of fear, tightness or weakness. It had the perfect scenario for a letdown when Andre Hollins left the game with an ankle injury less than a minute in, but instead the Gophers were never seriously threatened in dispatching the Badgers 81-68.
DeAndre Mathieu and Mo Walker were fantastic. Malik Smith, Austin Hollins and Oto Osenieks -- yes, Oto -- were terrific. The Gophers got no points from Elliott Eliason and just two early ones from Andre Hollins, and yet they still cruised.
If you wanted something to believe in, this was the game to get you there.
Maybe it's fool's gold. After all, the Gophers looked pretty ordinary in a lot of stretches of their first six league games, going 3-3 in the process. But it just feels like a team that's improving. It feels like a team that will defend its home court with poise and confidence. It feels like a team that is primed to make the NCAA tournament, and perhaps even be dangerous once they are there.
Maybe we should know better than to believe, but we just can't help it right now. The Gophers have earned it.