Crushed by Badgers, Gophers await NCAA fate

  • Article by: AMELIA RAYNO , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 15, 2014 - 6:35 AM

Wisconsin rolled over the Gophers, relegating them to waiting for Sunday’s NCAA selections.

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– At game’s end Friday, the Gophers ducked their heads in the locker room. Players sat quietly at their cubbies. The sound of Austin Hollins ripping the taped bags of ice off his knees cut the silence.

But there were no tears; no outpouring of emotions.

Among the players’ long faces after the 83-57 loss to Wisconsin in the second round of the Big Ten basketball tournament, there was a pervasive tone of disappointment but a version tempered by the feeling that their season was ultimately still a success.

Now, the NCAA tournament committee will make its own judgment Sunday on the Gophers’ future.

“We definitely had a very good season,” guard Andre Hollins said. “We definitely had some highs and some lows. Some things weren’t under our control — we can’t control everything, but I liked the way we fought and we grew as a team. Coach [Richard] Pitino is building a great program here.”

Ultimate success in high-major programs, however, is measured in large part by the postseason. That, for the Gophers (20-13), is still up in the air.

Both CBS Sports bracketologist Jerry Palm and ESPN’s Joe Lunardi had Minnesota on the outside of the bubble looking in after the Gophers’ first-round victory over Penn State. That status seems unlikely to change barring a perfect storm involving other teams sitting on the fence.

The Gophers have the benefit of a strong strength of schedule (ranked sixth) and a couple of good victories over Wisconsin and Ohio State but are hurt by a handful of bad losses, a conference record below .500 and the apparent inability to win meaningful games away from home.

Until Sunday’s announcements, there is nothing left to do but wait.

“My opinion is biased,” guard Austin Hollins said. “I think we should be in, but it’s not up to us, so we’re just going to hope for the best.”

Minnesota didn’t make a strong argument for itself on Friday.

The Gophers struggled to get anything going on offense. Andre and Austin Hollins combined to shoot 3-for-20 from the field, and point guard DeAndre Mathieu’s gritty 18-point performance was far from enough to cover the balance.

Minnesota had shot 54.2 percent from the field in its three games leading up to the Big Ten tournament but made only 37.7 percent of its shots in Indianapolis.

On the other end, No. 12 Wisconsin (26-6) ran rampant. After Sam Dekker capped a 21-9 spurt with a resounding transition dunk, the Gophers nailed consecutive threes — from Maverick Ahanmisi, Joey King and Mathieu — to pull back within three with 6:08 left in the first half. Almost instantly, that surge was forgotten. Ben Brust (a game-high 29 points) led an attack that scored the final eight points of the half, took full advantage of the Gophers’ sluggish defense and ultimately shot 54.5 percent from the field.

“Our defense had to be spectacular, and it wasn’t at all,” Mathieu said. “I don’t know what happened, we just could not score. Shots weren’t falling. And they seemed like they were making everything.”

The 1-1 showing was a sore ending note at the conference tournament during a season that was extremely inconsistent but appeared to be on the uptick.

“We’ve all got to clear our heads a little bit,” Pitino said. “Take a step back and certainly focus on the mistakes that we made because we are playing next week. Hopefully it’s in the NCAA, who knows? But we are going to be playing next week, and whatever tournament we play in and whoever we play, we’re going to hope to win because we’re fortunate to be able to play this game.”

 

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