The most recent Big Ten basketball statistics had the Gophers leading the conference in turnovers, a major factor in many of their conference losses. It happened again Sunday night, their 13 turnovers contributing to a 57-53 loss to an Illinois team that had won one conference road game all season.
With 50 seconds to play and the Gophers trailing 54-53, Trevor Mbakwe threw a two-handed cross-court pass that went out of bounds. Mbakwe did have 13 points and 10 rebounds, but his four turnovers really hurt.
The Gophers had defeated this same Illinois team 84-67 at Champaign earlier this season. But in that game Joe Coleman scored 29 points -- he had three in this meeting -- and they had a healthy Rodney Williams, who was on the bench Sunday because of an injured shoulder.
After leading 26-14 with 4:21 left in the first half, the Gophers got outscored 19-4 as Illinois took a 31-30 lead. The Illini shot 11-for-23 on three pointers; they had gone 3-for-24 from behind the arc in the first matchup.
"They definitely regained confidence with that little streak to take the lead at halftime," Mbakwe said. "It definitely hurts not having Rodney. But that's not an excuse. We still felt like we were a good enough team to beat them."
Williams missed his first game since his freshman season after injuring his left shoulder during practice Saturday on a collision while running through plays. He might be out indefinitely.
"It was tough to watch [the loss]," said Williams. "It was a tough one. But you know we still have more basketball to play. We can't worry about this one. We have to keep moving forward."
And how serious is the injury? "We don't really know yet. I'll go see the doctor," he said.
Williams said he'll definitely be ready for the Wisconsin game on Thursday, but don't look for that to happen.
More league games?
There have been a lot of rumors about the Big Ten increasing the conference football schedule from eight games to nine or 10 because of much greater television interest in those games, which would lead to increased revenues. The subject will be discussed at this week's Big Ten meeting in Chicago.
"Well, yeah, of course budgets are very important, and there has been talk of going to nine or 10 games,'' said Gophers athletic director Norwood Teague. ''But in that process we'll be protected financially as far as home games are concerned. I think it will be [a decision] that will be well thought out. But with expansion it begs the question more than it ever has.
"We have a couple of good [nonconference] games and then games that aren't as attractive to TV. That's an issue and something we're talking about. I've been really pleased with the discussions we're having, and those will continue in the next six months."
Teague was asked about rumors that the Big Ten might expand with two more schools after adding Maryland and Rutgers. "What you hear is what I probably hear because [Big Ten Commissioner] Jim Delany does a lot of talking behind the scenes to different constituents," Teague said. "Anything you hear right now is conjecture, but I know Jim will make good decisions. And when he gets to the point, if we would ever do that, he brings the athletic directors into the loop and brings presidents into the loop as well. Again he doesn't have the sole authority to do it -- he has to consult with us -- but he's always thinking progressively."
Solve punting problem
One of the Gophers football team's biggest weaknesses in Jerry Kill's two seasons has been the lack of a punter who could make sure that opponents aren't getting good field position.
The Gophers are sure they solved the problem by signing 6-5, 260-pound Ryan Santoso of Pace (Fla.) High School. Rivals.com lists Santoso as the nation's 15th-best kicker.
"He's big-time," Kill said. "He kicked off, and I think they had one return in high school. He kicked it between the uprights most of the time. So he's got a huge leg, big-time leg. So we're looking forward to having him."
• Gophers quarterback MarQueis Gray and former Spring Lake Park athlete Brian Leonhardt played tight end at the Feb. 2 Texas vs. the Nation all-star game. While Gray had just one catch, Bemidji State's Leonhardt was named offensive MVP for the Nation squad, with four catches for 62 yards and a touchdown. Gray's draft hopes have a big chance of rising at next week's NFL combine.
• Former Gophers football player Ed Lechner and former Augsburg coach Edor Nelson are neighbors in Inver Grove Heights. Lechner, a member of two Gophers national-championship teams (1940 and '41), had a key punt block that helped the Gophers defeat Northwestern 7-6 in 1941. He played one year for the New York Giants before returning to dental school, and he was the Vikings' team dentist for close to 20 years. Nelson coached football at Augsburg from 1947 to 1969 and baseball from 1946 to 1979. The football field at Augsburg is named after him.
• Former Gopher Thomas Vanek leads the NHL with 11 goals and 23 points in 11 games while former Gophers defenseman Jordan Leopold has a goal and three assists in 12 games for Buffalo. ... Former Gophers defenseman Paul Martin is second among Pittsburgh defensemen in scoring with a goal and five assists. ... Two Gophers recruits playing for Waterloo in the USHL, Taylor Cammarata and Justin Kloos, are the league's top two scorers. Cammarata has 27 goals and 39 assists in 38 games, while Kloos has 17 goals and 43 assists in 33 games.
• Ryan Walters, a one-time Gopher who transferred to Nebraska-Omaha, is tied for the NCAA lead in points with 17 goals and 25 assists in 30 games. ... Edina native Anders Lee leads Notre Dame with 17 goals and 12 assists in 30 games, while Mario Lucia, son of Gophers coach Don, has nine goals and nine assists in 21 games.
• Pedro Florimon, who has a chance to be the Twins' starting shortstop, played in the Dominican winter league with Leones del Escogido and hit .260 (32-for-123) with three RBI and 12 runs in 38 games. ... Chris Colabello, a first baseman/DH who played with Class AA New Britain last season and has been invited to spring training, hit .332 (68-for-205) with 17 home runs, 44 RBI and 38 runs in 57 games for Algodoneros de Guasave.
Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on 830-AM at 6:40, 7:40 and 8:40 a.m. and on Sundays at 9:30 a.m. firstname.lastname@example.org