After scrambling into overtime against the Badgers, the Gophers couldn't convert shots down the stretch.
There are still six games left, so nothing is over.
But the Gophers men's basketball team did itself no favors in Thursday's 68-61 overtime loss to Wisconsin, throwing away a winnable opportunity in the first game of a grueling seven-game finishing stretch of the season.
And after wasting a huge last-minute comeback -- and a stellar game from freshman Andre Hollins, the Gophers' season is teetering like an off-kilter jump shot, unable to fall in.
"This was definitely a big one," junior forward Rodney Williams said. "And from here on out, all of them are definitely big, no matter who we play."
Thursday it was Wisconsin's Jordan Taylor who was nearly unstoppable from three-point range and clutch from the free-throw line late, as the Gophers once again were unable to convert down the stretch to put a good team away.
With momentum on their side after a returning from a late double-digit deficit to force overtime, the Gophers flubbed two chances at the end of regulation, and started overtime by missing their first five scoring opportunities, including consecutive free throws that Williams clanked.
"We had a chance at the end, and the shots just didn't fall," Williams said. "Overtime, they made shots, and we didn't. That's really all it came down to."
After such a surprising burst of intensity late in regulation, a loss that at times felt inevitable suddenly seems like a major missed opportunity.
With nine minutes left the Gophers were down by 13 -- a double-digit deficit that had held constant through most of the second half after Taylor lit up the scoreboard with five three-pointers.
But then, things changed.
Andre Hollins -- who finished with a season-high 20 points and six rebounds -- ignited a 16-2 drive with his second three-pointer of the game and scored nine points in the stretch to tie the score at 51 with 1:02 left in regulation.
"He's the reason we got back in the ballgame, and he's very capable," coach Tubby Smith said. "He'll have to see a lot more time."
Of course, Hollins is still a freshman. After Jared Berggren missed the Badgers' final shot, Hollins got the ball in a play designed for a last-minute drive to the basket. But his rushed shot with four seconds left missed the hoop. Austin Hollins got the rebound, but his attempt wasn't much better.
"I'm very, very, highly upset at myself," the freshman said. "That was a crazy shot and ... that's going to haunt me for a while. I just should have at least gotten it on the rim so guys like Rodney Williams could dunk that or get the rebound and at least give us a chance."
By the time the Gophers hit their first shot in overtime, they were staring at a six-point deficit once again. Five Minnesota fouls in the final minute cemented it.
The road ahead only gets tougher for the Gophers, who have six games left in a tough finishing stretch that includes four more games against ranked teams, starting with the nation's No. 3, Ohio State, on Tuesday.
Realistically, to get into the NCAA tournament, the Gophers (17-8, 5-7 Big Ten) would need to go 4-2 the rest of the way, which means beating at least two of the ranked teams they face -- Ohio State, Wisconsin, Indiana or Michigan State.
"To lose this one at home, it does put you back on your heels," Smith said. "These types of games will take the wind out of your sails early and quickly."
|San Jose St||52||FINAL|
|New Mexico St||86||FINAL|
|Mount St Marys||63|
|Long Beach St||49||FINAL|
|Utah Valley U||63||FINAL|
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