Hartman: Mathieu, defense add up to Gophers victory at Northwestern

  • Article by: SID HARTMAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 17, 2014 - 7:12 AM

The Gophers needed this win to maintain NCAA tournament hopes.

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Gophers point guard DeAndre Mathieu drove against Northwestern guard JerShon Cobb during the first half Sunday.

Photo: Nam Y. Huh, Associated Press

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When the Gophers turn the basketball over 17 times (including 10 in the first half), as they did at Northwestern on Sunday, they wouldn’t be expected to win.

Despite those turnovers, the story of the Gophers’ season has been that when point guard DeAndre Mathieu has a big day like Sunday, when he scored 18 points (13 in the second half), they win. In this case they beat the Wildcats 54-48 on the road after losing to them 55-54 at Williams Arena on Feb. 1.

Defense was also a good reason for the Gophers’ second conference road victory, after earlier winning at Penn State. Minnesota held Northwestern scoreless from 7:10 remaining until 15 seconds were left in the game. The Wildcats were 7-for-28 from the field in the second half, missing nine consecutive shots at one point.

The Gophers had lost four of their past six games, and they needed a victory for any chance for an NCAA tournament berth.

The Gophers’ second-leading scorer was Mo Walker, who wasn’t as effective under the basket as he was against Wisconsin on Jan. 22 (18 points, nine rebounds), but he did score eight points and added six rebounds. Andre Hollins, nearly healthy again after severely spraining his left ankle in the Gophers’ first game against the Badgers, also scored eight.

The Gophers are 6-7 in the conference and 17-9 overall. If they can win three more games, that should get them an NCAA bid. A good showing in the Big Ten tournament also would help.

Rivalry renewed

For years the Michigan-Minnesota rivalry was one of the best in college hockey, with former Chicago Blackhawks player John Mariucci coaching the Gophers and former St. Louis Blues star Red Berenson coaching Michigan. Berenson, 74, was still on the bench this weekend against the Gophers in his 30th season as Wolverines coach.

Gophers hockey coach Don Lucia talked about that rivalry following the Gophers’ sweep of Michigan this weekend in the inaugural season of Big Ten hockey.

“I know when I came to Minnesota in 1999, Michigan had won the national titles in ’96 and ’98 and I said, ‘You know what, if we’re going to be the type of team we want to be, we’re going to have to beat Michigan.’ Lo and behold, when we won it in 2002 and 2003, we beat them in the semifinals,” Lucia recalled. “They have a great tradition, great program. We have a great rivalry with them in all the other sports in the Big Ten, and I think the Michigan-Minnesota rivalry is going to be one that really amps up.”

Lucia was asked for his opinion on the conference so far.

“I’ve enjoyed it so far this year with the new venues we get to go to,” Lucia said. “I think there’s a lot of mutual respect within the programs. I made the comment when we went to Penn State, it’s the first time we’ve been on the road in a conference game where nobody hated us. I think it’s good, competitive games and I think it’s really going to grow. So far it has been a real plus, especially for us that we get to maintain our in-state [nonconference] rivals. I’ve said we have the best of both worlds and we’re really enjoying the new conference and the new venues.”

Lucia also spoke about how important this team’s freshmen have been after Hudson Fasching, who had two goals, Connor Reilly, Justin Kloos, Tyler Cammarata and Gabe Guertler accounted for six of the Gophers’ nine goals this weekend.

“We’ve needed them,” Lucia said. “We knew with the kids that left early last year that our freshmen were going to have an opportunity to come in and play and play significant minutes. They obviously did a great job scoring.

“That’s a good sign, we needed it, but also, like in a game [Saturday] night when [junior Sam] Warning and [senior Nate] Condon scored, it makes us a much, much better team. We needed a bounce-back weekend after getting swept at Wisconsin. I thought we played well both games but just couldn’t score that weekend, and we came back and scored nine this past weekend. Adam [Wilcox] continued to do his great job in the net. So a good weekend by us, and looking forward to a little down week before we get into the final three weeks of the season.”

Jottings

• The Vikings’ quarterback payroll in 2013 had to be one of the lowest in the NFL. The salary cap number for the three QBs was $8.4 million, with Christian Ponder at $2.7 million and Matt Cassell $3.7 million, before Josh Freeman was signed in the middle of the season for $2 million. If the Vikings decide to sign a free-agent quarterback, they will have to spend a lot more than the total those three got this past season. The 16 highest-paid quarterbacks in the NFL all average more money in a single season on their current contracts than the Vikings paid their quarterback corps last year.

• When Brendan Daly wasn’t retained by the new Vikings coaching staff, it ended his second stint with the team. Daly was on Brad Childress’ staff as an assistant defensive line coach from 2006-2008, then joined the St. Louis Rams from 2009-2011. When Leslie Frazier was hired in 2012, Daly came back to the Vikings as defensive line coach. He is now a defensive assistant with the Patriots.

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