Sid Hartman: Similar losing ways for Wolves, Gophers

  • Article by: SID HARTMAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 25, 2013 - 12:34 AM

Neither team can hold a big lead or protect the ball, as again was demonstrated by the Wolves on Sunday.

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Timberwolves guard Ricky Rubio (9) and Carl Landry (7) fought for a rebound in late in the fourth quarter. Golden State beat Minnesota by a final score of 100-99.

Photo: Carlos Gonzalez, Star Tribune

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Timberwolves coach Rick Adelman and Gophers coach Tubby Smith are both battling through seasons in which injuries and close losses have turned promising starts into difficult finishes.

The two coaches are recognized as the best in the business. Adelman has the eighth-most victories in NBA history and has made the playoffs in 16 of 21 seasons, while Smith has averaged over 23 victories a season in 22 years of Division I coaching and has won an NCAA title along with three appearances in the Elite Eight and five in the Sweet 16.

Both teams continue to blow big leads, such as the 16-point lead the Wolves gave away Sunday in their 100-99 loss to Golden State at home. The previous Sunday, the Gophers gave up a 16-point lead in what became a blowout loss at Iowa. And both teams continue to lose games because of turnovers in key situations.

It's interesting that both coaches had teams that began this season with key starters returning from injury and showing great signs of team improvement.

The Wolves started the season without Ricky Rubio, who was recovering from a torn knee ligament, and Kevin Love, who broke a bone in his hand at the start of the year.

But on Dec. 20, both Rubio and Love were in the lineup when the Wolves defeated Oklahoma City -- the top team in the Western Conference -- 99-93 at home, improving their record to 13-11 and putting them in the thick of the playoff race.

But two weeks later Love would break that same bone in his hand, and the Wolves are 4-19 since, with seven of those losses coming by six points or fewer, including Sunday's 100-99 heartbreaker at home against Golden State.

On Jan. 9, the Gophers were 15-1 overall and 3-0 in the Big Ten, having won at No. 12 Illinois with Trevor Mbakwe playing in the starting lineup for just his fourth game, as he, like Rubio, worked back from an ACL surgery last season.

Since then the Gophers have lost eight of 11. Through their first six losses the Gophers' average margin of defeat was just 6.3 points. But in their past two games, as starter Rodney Williams has been limited by a shoulder injury, the Gophers have lost by an average of 23.5 points.

The Wolves and Gophers have also been their own worst enemy at times, as turnovers have plagued both teams. The Wolves ranked No. 25 in the league going into Sunday's game, averaging 15.2 turnovers per game. The Gophers, of course, are dead last in the Big Ten, with 13.9 turnovers per game in conference play.

Naturally, the loss of Love was a much bigger impact on the Wolves this season than the Gophers' injuries. Both teams would like the opportunity to play in the postseason -- the Wolves in the NBA playoffs and the Gophers in the NCAA tournament -- but if they continue at the present pace, both will be watching those events on television.

Williams produces

Derek Williams, who was in Adelman's doghouse for a long time, continued his strong play for the Wolves on Sunday with 23 points and 12 rebounds against the Warriors. The 2011 No. 2 overall pick in the NBA draft is averaging 16.6 points and 8.8 rebounds over his past eight games.

Meanwhile, Rubio played his second-highest minute total of the season with 39, looking his old self before his knee surgery. He had his second consecutive game with at least 10 points, five assists, five rebounds and five steals. It's the first time the Wolves have had a player accomplish that feat in back-to-back games since Terrell Brandon in 2001.

The Wolves have lost 14 of their past 16 road games, and Tuesday they play at Phoenix vs. former teammate Michael Beasley. He is averaging 10.5 points per game this season.

Jottings

• Even with all the snow, the Twins are gearing up for Opening Day on April 1 at Target Field: "It's going to be interesting to see what goes down with the weather between now and then," team President Dave St. Peter said. "[Head groundskeeper] Larry DiVito told me on Friday that he expects to have all the snow, if there is snow, to have the field cleared by March 5. So we've got some work to do on our grounds crew front, but we've been there before, and I'm optimistic. ... Speaking of baseball weather, the Twins might have their worst home schedule in many years with 15 games in April and 16 in September.

• Gophers wrestling coach J Robinson talked about his team gaining revenge for an earlier loss to Iowa and winning the National Duals meet held here this past weekend with eight top teams from around the country participating: "Our guys wrestled really good," he said. "I think it was really a statement. We wrestled against Iowa and they don't like us much and we don't like them much, and it brings out a lot of intensity and a lot of emotion. It was just a great effort by the team yesterday." After beating the Hawkeyes 22-15, the Gophers then avenged another loss by beating Oklahoma State 28-9 for the title. "That's the worst we've ever beat Oklahoma State, and they were ranked No. 1 in the country," Robinson said. "It was a big, exciting dual meet for our guys."

• The last time Mbakwe faced off against his old coach Tom Crean and Indiana, he had a stellar game, scoring 13 points on 5-for-9 shooting with 10 rebounds, two blocks and three assists Jan. 12. ... As of Sunday, the Gophers were still ranked No. 15 in the RPI, according to ESPN.

• Gophers golfer Erik van Rooyen from South Africa qualified for the Sunshine Tour. He will turn professional on June 4.

• Add Brookfield, Wis., senior Brian Smith to the list of the Gopher football team's preferred walk-on group for this fall. He was a wide receiver and defensive back for Brookfield East High School.

• The Gophers men's track and field squad finished in fifth place at the Big Ten indoor championships. They weren't far from winning the championship, though, as this was the closest finish at the tournament since 2003. Wisconsin won with 90 points and the Gophers finished in fifth with 86, only four points behind. Harun Abda was the lone Gophers athlete to earn first-team All-Big Ten honors. Gophers football player Devin Crawford-Tufts of Edina finished fourth in the 60-meter dash at 6.80 seconds, right behind teammate Sean King, who ran a 6.77.

• Former Twins pitcher Kyle Lohse remains on the free-agent market despite his big 2012 season with St. Louis. CBSSports.com's Jon Heyman wrote Milwaukee makes the most sense for Lohse.

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. shartman@startribune.com

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