Several Big Ten teams have suffered through the kind of losing streaks this season where if you checked their pulse they’d probably be pronounced dead.
Check once. Nothing. Check twice. No sign of life.
Then, just like that, they are full of energy and playing their best basketball. And they finally break through to get a victory.
The Gophers enter Saturday’s home game against Indiana hoping to climb back up and stop a four-game losing streak. They are 0-for-February and have fallen from sixth to eighth place in the Big Ten since the slump began.
But they are also one of eight conference teams that have lost four consecutive games or more this season.
Whatever those other coaches did to get their teams on track is something Richard Pitino hopes to figure out soon. The Gophers are now desperate for more quality wins to stay in NCAA tournament contention, especially after Wednesday’s demoralizing 62-61 loss at Nebraska that included a controversial late foul.
“I want to win them all,” said Pitino, whose demeanor had cooled significantly since reaching a boiling point after the contentious ending in Lincoln, Neb. “We try to focus a lot on not necessarily the result.
“The result didn’t end in our favor the last game, but I think our guys played well enough to win on the road in the Big Ten, which is not easy to do. We know now we’ve got two in a row at home. I think they’re excited to play at home.”
The Hoosiers were one of those Big Ten teams in a free fall recently. Theirs was much worse than the Gophers’ though, a seven-game losing streak that ended with a 79-75 victory at then-No. 6 Michigan State on Feb. 2.
Indiana even lost its best player, Juwan Morgan, to a shoulder injury that game, but still battled through adversity to pull off the upset in overtime.
The Gophers (16-9, 6-8 Big Ten) know all too well how Illinois, Michigan State and Nebraska ended their longest losing streaks this year. In all three cases, the streaks ended against Minnesota.
It’s still fresh in the Gophers’ mind when Amir Coffey was called for a foul with 1.1 seconds left Wednesday that enabled James Palmer Jr. to end Nebraska’s seven-game losing streak with two free throws in a 62-61 victory.
“We’re all still a little upset,” senior Brock Stull said. “Just using that as motivation, because we know we’ve got to win some games coming up here.”
Magic Johnson and his 1979 national championship team were honored when Michigan State ended a three-game slide Feb. 9 in a dominant 79-55 victory over the Gophers.
And earlier this season, the Illini had five consecutive losses before blowing out the Gophers 95-68 on Jan. 16, which was Illinois’ first conference victory. After Thursday’s upset at Ohio State, the Illini have won four in a row.
“I remember saying to [Illinois coach] Brad Underwood, ‘Like, how have you won only four games?’ ” Pitino said, referring to that Jan. 16 meeting. “You’ve seen what they’ve done. Wisconsin went through it. Ohio State went through it. Michigan State went through it. Michigan just lost to Penn State [on Tuesday]. So teams are going to go through those things. It’s a long, long season.”
Illinois, Michigan State and Nebraska all shot at least 50 percent from the floor and shut down Gophers leading scorer Amir Coffey defensively to end their losing streaks.
The Gophers have shot only 40 percent (87-for-217) from the field, 24.6 percent (14-for-47) from three-point range and averaged 57 points per game during their losing streak. They played well enough defensively to win against Wisconsin by holding the Badgers to 34.5 percent shooting. They were also a defensive rebound away from a victory at Nebraska.
“The little things always matter in this league,” Gophers sophomore Eric Curry said. “We do those little things, it could go a long way.”
Nobody knows how to end a losing streak on the Gophers better than Jordan Murphy, Dupree McBrayer and Curry, who were all major part of the 2016-17 team that overcame a five-game slide to earn an NCAA tournament bid.
“Knowing what it takes to break through and get past those hard times and get past those slumps, the guys come to us for advice mainly on that,” Murphy said. “It’s not any time to panic or to start pointing fingers. It’s time to keep it together and get closer.”