Gophers say so long to losing skid by blowing out Iowa

  • Article by: MYRON P. MEDCALF , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 14, 2011 - 1:03 PM

By performing at a level not visible during their slide, the Gophers proved they still are a capable group -- at least, when they execute.

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IOWA CITY — The early deficit and sluggishness were familiar.

The recovery and finish were foreign.

The Gophers ended their four-game losing streak, their worst under coach Tubby Smith, with a dominating 62-45 victory over Iowa on Sunday at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.

Their performance was as perplexing as it was refreshing, given their recent drought.

Trevor Mbakwe swished jump shots and hit free throws (career-high 24 points, 10-for-11 at the foul line). Huh?

Rodney Williams (13 points) led the Gophers out of an early funk with an aggressive performance. Seriously?

The Gophers played zone and still defended well against three-pointers. Really?

And they achieved their most lopsided conference road victory in three years even though Blake Hoffarber was held to six points. What?

By performing at a level not visible during their slide, the Gophers (17-8, 6-7 Big Ten) proved they still are a capable assembly sans Al Nolen -- at least, when they execute.

"I think our guys responded the right way," Smith said. "We were focused, ready to play and we had great balance. ... I thought we had good individual efforts all the way around."

The victory -- the Gophers' biggest on the road in conference play since winning 92-72 at Northwestern on Feb. 6, 2008 -- rejuvenated a team that hadn't won since Jan. 26. Smiles and laughs replaced frowns and frustration after the game.

"I think we kind of showed how hungry we were," said Mbakwe, who was outscored only 25-22 by Iowa as a team after halftime.

Facing a team that sat near the bottom of the Big Ten, the Gophers ran into a 14-6 ditch early. During their skid, they had failed to recover from first-half deficits -- all four of those opponents led at halftime.

Williams -- whom Smith accused of "standing around" during Thursday's loss to Illinois -- decided to take action.

Williams hit three baskets in a span of 35 seconds, then hit a rare three-pointer during a 24-6 rally to close the half that put the Gophers ahead 30-20. Smith credited Williams, who scored 11 first-half points, with energizing the team during that stretch.

"Just had to get something going," said Williams, who also led the team with seven rebounds and five assists. "We needed some energy from somewhere. We were looking a little dead out there. I kind of just took it upon myself to get out there and just try to make something happen."

He wasn't alone.

Maverick Ahanmisi made a case for starting at point guard by running the show, mostly in the second half. The freshman finished with seven points, two assists, a steal and a turnover in 11 minutes.

The Gophers also gave one of their best defensive efforts of the season. Smith employed a 2-3 zone all 40 minutes. He also started a big lineup of Mbakwe, Ralph Sampson III and Colton Iverson, although the coach went small throughout the game.

Using a zone usually has resulted in porous perimeter defense for the Gophers. But they held Iowa (10-15, 3-10) to a 6-for-28 mark from three-point range and 34 percent shooting overall.

A victory over Iowa would have been expected had the Gophers arrived here with a full roster. But given the circumstances, Sunday's performance was a big one for them and their uncertain NCAA tournament hopes -- and perhaps a sign that this team finally is starting to regroup since losing Nolen to a broken foot last month.

"When you lose four in a row, you're going to have heat on you no matter who you are," Williams said. "It feels good to finally get another win."

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