This is Amelia Rayno's second season on the Gophers' basketball beat. She learned college basketball in North Carolina (Go Tar Heels!), where fanhood is not an option. In 2010, she joined the Star Tribune after graduating from Boston's Emerson College, which sadly had no exciting D-I college hoops to latch onto. Amelia has also worked on the sports desk at the Boston Globe and interned at the Detroit News.Follow Rayno on Twitter @AmeliaRayno
Read my full take on tonight’s 78-64 loss to Florida here.
And my notebook from the game here.
The 2012-13 Gophers have been largely defined by four figures:
It’s possible that only one of them will be back next season.
After the Gophers’ 78-64 loss to Florida on Sunday, knocking Minnesota out of the NCAA tournament in the round of 32, seniors Mbakwe and Williams reminisced about their past and talked about their futures, while Andre Hollins looked ahead to his return.
It’s Smith’s status with the team, however, that remains up in the air.
The coach is coming off his 30th career win in the Big Dance on Friday, but his six-year tenure at Minnesota has instead been defined by the lack of them, by experiences so similar to what fans saw against Florida that it’s tough to view a first-round UCLA victory as much salvation.
That win, in fact, was Smith’s first NCAA tournament win at Minnesota, while he brought the Gophers three times and led them to the NIT title game a year ago.
If his job is in any jeopardy now, however, Smith won’t acknowledge it.
Asked if he had any indication to that end in Sunday’s post game press conference, the Gophers’ coach replied only with a curt “No.”
Andre Hollins, asked about the uncertainty of next season in light of the rumors about his coach’s job status, the point guard deflected the question.
“I mean, I predict that coach Smith will be back,” he said. “I think so. I’m not really, I guess I’m not caught up into it. I’m just going to work my tail off in the off-season, so we can make it farther in the tournament next year.”
If Minnesota athletic director Norwood Teague decides to make a change, it will likely come very soon – like in the next couple of days. The administration has certainly had a full season of ups and downs, dramatic wins and dramatic losses to evaluate. Now, there’s nothing left to play out, just a decision to be made.
Other notes on tonight’s loss:
Florida point guard Scottie Wilbekin was nine years old when he first caught the bug.
His AAU coach was very defensive minded, then, and he had the team pressing opponents a lot.
“I just loved getting steals,” he said.
A decade later, the junior’s mindset hasn’t changed. Wilbekin grabs an average of 1.5 steals a game and is a major part of how Florida harasses opponents into turnovers on 21.8 percent of their possessions.
He’s also a big part of why Florida has morphed in the last couple years from a team that was known mainly for its offense, to a balanced squad with a reputation for smothering D.
“I think the addition of Scottie Wilbekin, defensively, has added something to our team.” Gators coach Billy Donovan said. “I think if you would go back and look at last year, we were able to make a run in the NCAA tournament (Florida made it to the Elite Eight before falling to Louisville) because of the way we defended the 3-point line during those three or four games.
“… I think [Wilbekin] has three qualities that enable him to be very, very good [on defense],” Donovan said. “He’s really got good feet. The second thing is, he is a physical defender. He can get through, around and off screens very, very well. And then I would say the third thing is he is a guy that’s a tough-minded defender, maybe more so than any guard I ever coached. He values that. He himself puts a lot of value on defending.”
Tonight, as the 11-seed Gophers go up against the 3-seed Gators, Wilbekin will be trying to stop Andre Hollins – the MVP of the UCLA game in the first round with 28 points, nine rebounds and five assists.
Hollins had five 3-pointers in that one (an NCAA tournament record for Minnesota), which were critical in getting the Gophers over the hump. Can he go off in the same way tonight against Wilbekin? With Austin Hollins battling a cold, the Minnesota point guard’s shot could be even more critical vs. Florida.
“He’s a quick defender,” Andre Hollins said. “He keeps his hands active, he moves his feet well. He’s a solid PG. I have to contain him and I have to protect the ball like any other game.”
Hollins had just a single turnover (the Gophers had 11 overall) against Florida, but the Gophers weren’t exactly pressured by UCLA. Tonight will be a different story, and a different test for the sophomore – one that’s fun for Wilbekin who said he’s embraced his role as defensive stopper.
“I love playing defense,” he said. “And it helps when you got guys that are beside me right now that love playing defense as well.”
Other notes on tonight’s matchup:
Donovan on the Gophers’ rebounding: “They’re a terrific offensive and defensive rebounding team. [Trevor] Mbakwe is as good as there is in the country. But they chase it. They go after it. They do a really good job and this will be, again, not only a challenge for our frontcourt but it will be a challenge for our team to collectively be able to rebound the basketball. Because certainly their misses, they get a large percentage of their misses back.”
Wilbekin on Andre Hollins: “Well, first of all, he’s a great scorer and he can score in a multitude of ways. So I really got to just be ready and I got to count on my guys to help me if I get beat. But I don’t know, just be ready to contain him and don’t let him get any easy shots, always have a hand in his face.”
More Minnesota thoughts:
Trevor Mbakwe on the matchup with Florida: “There’s going to cause problems for most teams just because they’re one of the best teams in the country and they’ve shown it throughout the season. We haven’t played many teams this physical and that defend the ball the way they do, but we’re high on each other. We feel like we can win the game as long as we play with a confidence and don’t get too discombobulated and turn over the ball, we’ll be fine.”
Andre Hollins on the necessity of hitting 3-pointers: “It means the world. You knock down shots, you stop the other team’s transitions, gives you time to set up a defense, like we set up our press – we also pressed a little bit more and I think that worked well. You put the ball in the hole, I mean, that’s the object of the game. Score more points than the other team. Obviously it takes a lot of pressure off of all the other aspects of the game.”
*Today’s game will be on TNT at 5:10 CT.
*Listen to today’s game live on 1500-a.m.
*In today’s Star Tribune: Gopher’s guard play make life a lot easier.
*In today’s Star Tribune: Gophers notes: Florida’s Billy Donovan shows coaching versatility.
*The call: breaking down the matchups.
*On the blog: Ten things you should know about Florida.
*Gophers notes from yesterday’s media access.
So, the national pundits and Vegas were right: the 11th seeded Gophers pulled the first round upset-that-wasn’t-an-upset over 6-seed UCLA on Friday in a convincing way – beating out the Bruins in a plethora of ways.
And hey, after the first 10 minutes or so, the Gophers looked pretty good. They advance to the second round, I get to stay in beautiful Austin, Texas – everybody wins, right?
But before you get too giddy looking ahead to the Sweet Sixteen (I know you are. My Twitter feed tells me) -- or I start thinking about continuing my tour of sunny Texas while all of you at home get blasted by sub-zero wins and creamed by snowstorm after snowstorm – take a step back and a deep breath.
Florida, as it turns out, is a pretty good team. And more than that, the Gators might be a really problematic matchup for the Gophers.
Let’s take a glimpse:
Read my full take on tonight's win here.
For weeks, Gophers coach Tubby Smith has been saying that this Gophers team lacks a leader.
“I mean, I’m sure he’s there, but I’d like to see him surface,” the coach said on Tuesday.
On Friday, he stepped up. Again.
Say hello to the Andre Hollins you remember from last year.
The point guard hit five threes against UCLA (a Gophers tournament record), performed in clutch moments and led Minnesota with 28 points, nine rebounds and five assists to just one turnover.
It was exactly the recipe the Gophers needed for a momentous 83-63 win over UCLA – the first Minnesota win in the Big Dance since 1997, and the first non-vacated win since 1990 – and a ticket to the second round, when they will play 3-seed Florida at 5:10 on Sunday on TNT.
“Growing up as a little kid, you dream of these moments,” Hollins said.
Perhaps the most impressive thing was that when UCLA made two small comebacks -- which could have quickly gotten out of hand -- Minnesota responded by puttings its foot on the Bruins' throats. First came Hollins with his 3-pointers and the 10-3 run that was all his own, and then Joe Coleman helped nail the coffin, scoring 12 of his 14 points in the last 8:37.
It’s amazing what this team can do if its hitting shots. But Hollins’ shooting wasn’t the only thing that went well for the Gophers on Friday.
They played a zone effectively – players said they hadn’t practiced the zone much, but that they stuck with it when it was so effective (Smith said they had planned to use the zone a lot all along) and used the press well. They limited turnovers (11), particularly in the first half (3). They scored 20 points off UCLA turnovers and crushed the opponent in the paint, 34-24. And they ran the Bruins, who had a very thin bench to start, out of the building.
All of that combined to provide a blowout win despite the fact that the Gophers didn’t really do the one thing they were expected to be good at – killing the Bruins on the boards – all that well (the Gophers had 36 rebounds to UCLA’s 42).
Now, perhaps the biggest challenge will be for the Gophers to keep the intensity they showed on Friday, rather than suffering a letdown as they have so many times this year -- and for Andre Hollins to keep his hot touch and proclivity to lead.
Other notes on tonight’s victory:
For Larry Drew II, it was a moment that couldn’t be faked.
Moments after the UCLA point guard had discovered what the team thought was something of a minor injury to all-around star Jordan Adams was actually a season-ending broken foot, the cameras were there, in the Bruins’ locker room.
With the news so fresh, and the ramifications so big, Drew couldn’t hold it in. Tears streamed down his face as he spoke to reporters, distraught.
A week has passed since that day, and a lot has happened. Adjustments had to be made, attitudes changed. It was a new team starting a new season.
And that Friday night, as Drew walked back to his hotel from the arena, he prepared himself for it mentally. There would be no more tears. There couldn’t be.
“I knew I had to move on, he said Thursday. “We couldn’t really be stuck on that forever because we were going to be playing against. So I shook it off and I got focused and probably just after that point in time I knew that, OK, the season is not over.”
And move on UCLA has heading into tonight’s matchup against the Gophers in the NCAA tournament.
About 24 hours after news of the injury, the Bruins’ had to play their next game – in the Pac-12 title game against Oregon. They lost.
“There’s not a lot of time in that sort of time period to make a lot of adjustments,” coach Ben Howland said.
A day later, the reigning regular-season Pac-12 champs were chosen as a 6 seed (perhaps a little low) in the NCAA field, scheduled to play their opening game (and second if applicable) in Austin, Texas – when the program had made it very clear they preferred the home state site of San Jose.
Too add fuel to the flames, Vegas odds quickly slotted UCLA as the three-point underdog – yes, the underdog – to 11-seed Minnesota.
It’s hard to believe that the Gophers could be the team with the least amount of drama going on in any game – but tonight that seems to be the case. Besides their seeding/location concerns, losing the role of the favorite in the matchup and the loss of Adams, the Bruins are also hampered by rampant rumors about Howland’s dubious future with the program.
While Gophers coach Tubby Smith could be in the same predicament, Howland’s seat seems infinitely hotter, and has gotten more publicity. Just to pile on, the LA Times came out with a wonderfully written story today on Shabazz Muhammad – and the discovery that the 19-year-old star is actually 20.
Can the Bruins’ regroup and shove off the distractions long enough to beat mentally ailing Minnesota – a team that has crashed and burned to a degree to finish the season, but still has the love of the national media?
That is the ultimate question.
Tonight could be the last night of Trevor Mbakwe and Rodney Williams’ career. It could be the end of the Gophers’ crazy, up-and-down season. And it very well could be the final game of Smith’s tenure at Minnesota as well.
A Gophers win would extend the season, allow Minnesota to finish on a high note and perhaps cool down Smith’s seat at least somewhat.
And I can honestly tell you, I have no idea what’s going to happen. From what I’ve seen from this team this season, nothing – nothing – would surprise me.
Three keys to tonight’s game:
Some more thoughts from UCLA:
Drew on the team coping with the loss of Adams: “I think everybody’s been handling it particularly well. Especially Norman. Norman has had a couple great days in practices these last couple of days, he’s really stepped up. The team overall has been stepping up in Jordan’s absense. Obviously it’s a major loss to us, but Coach Howland and the rest of the coaching staff, everybody’s done a very good job in preparing us for the coming games."
Drew on who would be the one guy they would try to stop: “In my opinion, the point guard is the one who controls and dictates everything out on the floor, so being that their guard, he is the leading scorer on the team, he takes the most shots, I do believe. But in my opinion, if I take him out of the game, then the rest of the team will go down with him. So I’m going to do my best to speed him up, pressure him, and just do a good job on the defensive end of the floor.”
Travis Wear on the Big Ten: “There’s a lot of big, physical teams in the Big Ten. They grind it out. I feel like a little bit more than the Pac-12 does. But I think our conference is going to fare very well in the tournament this year. I think that we’re going to prove that our conference is very tough this year and equivalent to any other one across the country. But we know that Minnesota’s going to come and grind it out and beat us on the boards like a lot of the Big Ten schools like to do.”
Howland on pushing the pace, despite the fact that UCLA is only playing seven deep: “We want to run. We want to control the pace of the game. We want to play fast and push the ball. We’ll look for every opportunity we can in transition. Then, if we don’t do something, we’ll pull out and execute what we do – we’re best, our best offense is transition offense. That’s, if you looked at our team this year, we led the conference in transition baskets, most shots attempted, most points scored … so nothing changes. These guys are in great condition. Larry’s the old man, he’s 23. He can go forever.
A few thoughts from Minnesota:
Williams on the key to the game: “Shabazz Muhammad. That’s the key to their team. If we stop him and make all the other guys be the scorers, I think we’ll come out with the W. They’re also a good transition team and they can shoot the ball well, but the big key is going to be Muhammad.”
Austin Hollins on getting away from the grind-it-out, half-court setting that is seen so much in Big Ten play: “It is a little bit refreshing. They’re no Wisconsin or anything. So we’ll be ready when we come out on the court, we’ll be ready to run up and down.”
Some other quick notes:
*Watch tonight’s game on TruTV.
* Listen to tonight’s game live on My Talk 107.1 a.m.
* In today’s Star Tribune: Williams looking to rise to the occasion, at last.
* Also in today’s Star Tribune: What’s this? A little good, old-fashioned smack talk?
* All about the matchup: the call.
* Notes from yesterday’s media access.
* This week’s aMAILia BAG.
* Want to feel better about your bracket? Check out mine. Feel free to give me [heck]. My boss just informed me I am DEAD LAST in the company pool of 87. This is who you’re getting college basketball advice from, folks. Hopefully I can’t get canned for being impossibly bad at filling out a bracket. I’m not even mad. That’s amazing. Not sure if I could have done this bad if I tried.
*Who likes the Gophers? Well, just about everyone. (At least Harvard and Vegas).
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