All season long, coach Tubby Smith has lauded this Gophers team as the one with the most chemistry, the one that's worked the hardest, the one with the most heart in his six seasons at Minnesota.
So when he sat, shaking his head on the podium, after the Gophers' second consecutive loss featuring a ragged start and a not-quite-enough comeback, the confusion and frustration could be heard in his voice.
No. 5 Michigan stopped No. 9 Minnesota 83-75 at Williams Arena on Thursday night -- with the Gophers exhibiting weak defense, poor communication and an apparent half-hearted effort for a considerable stretch -- one day after a puzzling lackluster effort at practice.
"I was disappointed in our practice [Wednesday], to be honest with you, in the defensive effort, especially in our starting group, and it showed today -- it raised its ugly head," Smith said. "There's no reason to panic, but I'm just really disappointed in two games. ... And trying to make a comeback, that's just a -- well, I really don't know what to call it. It's just disappointing."
For the second game in a row, the Gophers (15-3, 3-2 Big Ten) tried to rely on late energy and a final surge to salvage a victory. For the second game in a row, they came up short.
After falling behind by 19 early in the second half, the Gophers pushed within seven at 77-70 on a Rodney Williams dunk with 2:39 to go, erasing a huge deficit as they had in Saturday's 88-81 loss at Indiana.
But once again, to the dismay of the sellout crowd announced at 14,625, the Gophers didn't have enough time -- or poise -- to get the job done, missing some easy baskets and missing seven of their final 16 free throws.
"I think we stopped being aggressive, and once we turned into a passive team, then mistakes happened," said senior forward Trevor Mbakwe, who had a double-double with 13 points and 10 rebounds and five of the Gophers' six blocked shots.
All of the last-minute details were simply a footnote to another poor stretch of play from Minnesota.
The Gophers trailed 29-26 with 4:52 left in the first half after junior guard Austin Hollins -- who was the true highlight of Minnesota's night with 21 points, six rebounds, three assists and no turnovers -- made two early three-pointers and a layup, and Julian Welch, playing the bulk of the first half after sophomore point guard Andre Hollins sat out after drawing his second foul with 13:35 remaining in the first half, kept the Gophers afloat with precise shooting.
But a hot Tim Hardaway Jr., who led Michigan (17-1, 4-1) with 21 points and hit four first-half three-pointers, and 10 Gophers turnovers kept Minnesota at bay, and the Wolverines led 36-30 at the break.
The Gophers' lackluster play carried over to the second half, when with Williams all but absent until the final minutes the Gophers fell behind 58-39 with 12:33 to play.
Michigan sophomore point guard Trey Burke (18 points, nine assists) found a way to bruise the Gophers almost every time down the floor, whether it was by driving, shooting or passing for a score.
"We had a lot of miscommunications on defense, a lot of things that don't usually happen to us," Williams said.
The last-minute gritty play and narrowing of the final margin wasn't enough to make up for the Gophers' earlier faults, and it wasn't enough to impress Smith or any of the players who sullenly answered questions afterward.
"At the end of the day, we're right there with those teams and you just take away the little mistakes that we had and it's a whole different ballgame," Andre Hollins said. "But at the same time, you can't be satisfied with our play right now."