Looking back to the No. 8 Gophers basketball team's 88-81 loss to No. 5 Indiana on Saturday -- a game in which Minnesota trailed 52-29 at halftime before outscoring the Hoosiers 52-36 in the second half -- Gophers coach Tubby Smith described the performance as "a gallant effort and a good thing for our kids as far as their character."
Smith naturally was disappointed in the team's play after watching the first-half tape, because the Gophers (15-2, 3-1 Big Ten) got away from the things they did so well up until Saturday.
"It was a very hostile place to play in, Assembly Hall," Smith said. "They have some of the best fans around and they were ready for us, and we played pretty good for about 30 minutes. It was the other 10 minutes that weren't very good.
"The turnovers, 12 turnovers in the first half, that's how you get down by 23, [when] you turn the ball over that many times against a good team. [And] even our defensive breakdown, we'd been holding people to 30-some percent and they shoot 65 percent in the [first] half. That was not good."
The Hoosiers had lost only once in their past 29 home games, and that was 77-74 to the Gophers on Jan. 12 last year. As Smith pointed out, despite the poor first half, the Gophers had a chance to tie the score and send it into overtime.
"It's 16 seconds to go in the game, and one of their best free-throw shooters and best players, Jordan Hulls, is on the line and misses both free throws," Smith said. "And we get the ball and [Indiana sophomore forward Cody Zeller] ran around and slapped it out of [Gophers senior forward Trevor Mbakwe's] hand. We had a chance to come down, we didn't have any more timeouts, but I liked our chances at that point because we really had Indiana on the ropes, really had a chance to kind of get back into the ballgame.
"I couldn't believe the guys' effort. They did a tremendous job of getting back in the game -- a lot of heart, a lot of soul, a lot of character."
Smith added: "That's something we can build on. I think we learned a real valuable lesson about how to stay focused. It went from executing the game plan -- letter perfect against Illinois, almost -- and we were doing OK in the first six, seven minutes, eight minutes of the [Indiana] game, but then we got away [from that] and tried to do some things one-on-one and that's not us, that's not our game."
Smith believed this was a game the team should have won, because he considers this the best Gophers team he has coached. He thinks if the players can stay together and keep believing in one another, they can beat almost any team in the country.
They have lost only two games, to Duke and Indiana, two of the top-ranked teams in the country.
One big advantage Indiana had is that the Hoosiers had not played since last Monday at Penn State, an easy 74-51 victory, and had five days to prepare for the Gophers on their home court. On the other hand, the Gophers played at No. 12 Illinois on Wednesday, won 84-67, then flew home and prepared two days for Indiana before going on the road again for the game.
"Up until this week, we had had plenty of time, three or four times to practice and get ready for a team," Smith said. "It was a big adjustment to go from our preparation, which we had a lot of time to prepare for, to just two days.
"Now we have four days to prepare for a good Michigan team."
That will be an advantage for the Gophers. No. 2 Michigan got beat Sunday for the first time this year, 56-53 by No. 15 Ohio State, and now the Wolverines will have the disadvantage of having only three days to practice before facing the Gophers on Thursday at Williams Arena.
Good advice for Carroll
If you asked Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll, he would tell you he wouldn't have drafted rookie quarterback sensation Russell Wilson without the advice of former Vikings coach Bud Grant. Carroll consults with Grant on a regular basis.
Carroll, who coached under Grant in 1985, called before the draft and told him members of his staff didn't want to draft Wilson because he was too short (5-11). Grant told him height should not be a reason not to draft Wilson.
Well, Seattle made the playoffs in part because of Wilson and lost a 30-28 heartbreaker to the Falcons on Sunday in an NFC divisional playoff game. The former Badger completed 24 of 36 passes for 385 yards and two touchdowns and also rushed for 60 yards on seven attempts and another score.
Wilson finished the regular season with 3,118 passing yards, 26 touchdowns and a 100.0 passer rating. He also rushed for 489 yards and four scores.
Vikings offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave must have felt satisfaction watching another great young quarterback, Matt Ryan, put the Falcons in position to eliminate the Seahawks in the final 31 seconds of the game Sunday by completing passes of 22 and 19 yards to put them in range for Matt Bryant's game-winning 49-yard field goal. Musgrave coached Ryan for the first two years of his career with the Falcons and says that Christian Ponder is making equal or better progress than Ryan did during the same period.
• Denver lost 38-35 to the Ravens in two overtimes Saturday, but it wasn't the fault of former Gopher Eric Decker, who caught six of Peyton Manning's passes for 84 yards. What was more impressive for Decker was that every one of his receptions created a Denver first down. Decker finished the regular season with 85 receptions for 1,064 yards and 13 touchdowns, all career highs, to lead the Broncos receivers.
• Gophers junior defensive back Brock Vereen must have been thrilled watching his brother, Shane, have the game of his life as the Patriots defeated the Texans 41-28 on Sunday to advance to the AFC Championship Game. Shane rushed seven times for 41 yards and one touchdown and also caught five passes for 83 yards and two touchdowns.
• Also in that AFC Championship Game will be two former Vikings, center Matt Birk and offensive tackle Bryant McKinnie, who will play for the Ravens.
• Former Vikings wide receiver Sidney Rice had a big game for the Seahawks, catching four passes for 60 yards. ... Another former Vikings wideout, Randy Moss, had two receptions for 25 yards in San Francisco's 45-31 victory over Green Bay on Saturday. Both of those receptions came early in the game.
Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on 830-AM at 6:40, 7:40 and 8:40 a.m. and on Sundays at 9:30 a.m. firstname.lastname@example.org