Forgotten Anniversaries: The 1988-89 Gophers basketball team

  • Updated: June 13, 2013 - 8:14 PM

Wille Burton had to wear a facemask to protect his broken nose in 1989. Despite the apparatus, he led the Gophers in scoring that year.

Plenty of Minnesota sports anniversaries and years are embedded in our collective sports minds. Merely mention 1987, 1991 or 1998, for example, and the Twins’ two World Series titles plus the Vikings’ 15-1 season spring immediately to mind. But what about some lesser-known anniversaries? We’re here to take a look back at some of those, in increments of five years, dating backward from 2013.

Today: The 1988-89 Gophers men’s basketball team — and five things you might have forgotten about that season.

1 The season ended with the program’s first trip ever to the NCAA tournament Sweet 16, but it started under a cloud of questions. Standout Willie Burton sat out the first two games of the season as a penalty for missing classes, including a home loss to Ball State in the opener. And the team was operating under NCAA probation announced in March of 1988.

2 And, well, the expectations were hardly great. It was the third season under Clem Haskins, and while improvement was anticipated Haskins’ first two teams won just six Big Ten games combined. This was written in the Star Tribune’s season preview: “[Haskins’] dream is a 16- or 17-victory season and a postseason bid. Reality, though, dictates that he would be happy to continue the success graph’s upward trend.”

3 An NCAA tournament berth was hanging by a thread after the Gophers dropped to 6-9 in the conference — 0-8 in Big Ten road games — with a five-point loss at Illinois. But the Gophers beat Northwestern and Michigan at Williams Arena and followed with their first conference road victory of the season at Ohio State to sneak into the tournament as a No. 11 seed.

4 In the NCAA tourney, the Gophers were in the East region. They started with an upset of No. 6 seed Kansas State, 86-75, and got a break when No. 14 Siena defeated No. 3 Stanford. That matched Minnesota against Siena in the second round, and the Gophers pulled away late for an 80-67 victory. The season ended with an 87-70 loss to No. 2-seeded Duke.

5 Burton led the team in scoring at 18.3 ppg, while Melvin Newbern was second at 14.6. Newbern also had 101 steals in the season, which still stands as the team record. No other player in team history has more than 75 steals in a season.

Michael Rand

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