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Border battle a hot ticket: Gophers basketball close to first sellout in two seasons

The Gophers are close to their first sellout in two seasons with Saturday’s game against Wisconsin at Williams Arena.

There were 500 seats available (capacity is 14,625) for this weekend’s Border Battle as of Wednesday afternoon, according to a team spokesman. The Minnesota men’s basketball program’s last sellout at the Barn was the Wisconsin game in 2014-15.

It was a challenging start to the year for home attendance, not surprising coming off an 8-23 season in 2015-16.

The Gophers rank 11th in the Big Ten in attendance with 9,091 fans on average after 13 games. But their 12-1 nonconference start helped draw bigger crowds for the first two Big Ten games with 11,407 showing up for the Big Ten opener against Michigan State Dec. 27 and 11,267 for the Ohio State game Jan. 8.

Minnesota lost two straight road games after being ranked 24th in the country, so the home crowd never got to cheer on a top 25 team at the Barn. But the Gophers (15-4, 3-3) are still in NCAA tournament contention heading into one of the biggest home games against their rival Badgers in years.

Last season, Minnesota played in front of a non-sellout crowd (12,275) against Wisconsin at home for the first time since the 2006-07 season when it finished 9-22. Former Gophers coach Tubby Smith’s teams sold out every game against the Badgers during his six seasons from 2007-13.

Fourth-year Minnesota coach Richard Pitino’s teams have sold out home games three times in his tenure (vs. Indiana and Wisconsin in 2013-14 and vs. Wisconsin in 2014-15). The Gophers beat No. 9 Wisconsin 81-68 in Pitino’s first season in front of a sellout crowd. But a Gopher victory Saturday over the Badgers could arguably be an even bigger win, considering this is Pitino's most talented team.

Gophers men’s basketball sellouts in the last 10 seasons:

2015-16: 0

2014-15: 1

2013-14: 2

2012-13: 5*

2011-12: 2

2010-11: 8

2009-10: 8

2008-09: 7

2007-08: 4

2006-07: 0**

*Tubby Smith’s last season

** Dan Monson’s last season

Seeking more offense, Springs moving into Gophers starting lineup

With the Gophers basketball team struggling offensively during a two-game slide in the Big Ten, Richard Pitino believes it's time to make a change to his starting lineup.

In Saturday's 52-50 loss at Penn State, Minnesota scored just 17 points in the second half on 28 percent shooting from the field. The Gophers also struggled offensively in a 65-47 loss at Michigan State with 17 points in the first half. 

There's something wrong with the offense right now, so Pitino said Monday on his radio show that he will replace sophomore Dupee McBrayer with senior Akeem Springs in the starting backcourt. The Gophers (15-4, 3-3) play next on Saturday against Wisconsin at Williams Arena.

McBrayer has started all 19 games this season. Springs had one start. 

"I think I’m going to give Akeem a look and bring Dupree off the bench," Pitino said on KSTP-1500 AM. "I think that will help from a rotation standpoint. Akeem can obviously hit some jump shots a little better. See how that looks."

McBrayer, a 6-foot-5 guard, is averaging 11.7 points, 2.9 assists, 2.2 rebounds and 1.1 steals a game this season. He’s shooting 45 percent from the field and 37 percent from three-point range in 30.7 minutes.

Springs, a 6-4 captain, is averaging 8.6 points, 2.8 rebounds and 1.3 assists per game in 20.8 minutes. Per 40 minutes, the Milwaukee-Wisconsin graduate transfer ranks second on the team in scoring (16.5) behind leading scorer Nate Mason (16.6).

One of the knocks on Springs is he actually shoots better from three-point range (39.2 percent) than two-point range (36.1). But he leads the team with 38 three-point field goals this season.

Springs had just eight points combined on 3-for-14 shooting from the field (2-for-9 from beyond the arc) in the last two losses to Penn State and Michigan State. But he had 18 points on 5-for-8 three-point shooting in a 78-68 win against Ohio State Jan 8.

McBrayer is averaging 8.0 points on 34.2 percent (13-for-38) shooting in his last four games. He scored 11 points in the first half of the loss at Michigan State last week, but McBrayer went scoreless in the second half.

“It’s not a demotion (for) Dupree,” Pitino said. “That’s not what it is. But I'll give that a look. See how it looks this week.” 

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