When was the last time you spent an entire night watching Minnesota basketball and be completely and utterly rewarded not just with two victories but also two performances that came out of nowhere?
We can’t remember a night like Tuesday, when the Gophers won a track meet against Iowa and the Wolves came back to win at Phoenix. Both victories were influenced by two players — redshirt freshman Charles Buggs for the Gophers and rookie Shabazz Muhammad for the Wolves — who have typically only seen mop-up duty this season.
None of this guarantees anything about what Buggs, the Gophers, Muhammad or the Wolves will do for the rest of the year. But here is a look at their performances in the context of must-win games for both teams:
• Buggs: He had played exactly 21 minutes this season — two in Big Ten play — before Tuesday. But Buggs was the spark the Gophers needed against the Hawkeyes. He had 11 of his career-high 13 points in the first half. His only bucket in the second half came at a critical time. A 5-0 run had helped surging Iowa get within 68-66, but his steal and layup ignited a 12-1 run that proved essential.
The must-win moved the Gophers’ conference record to 7-9. An upset at Michigan and a home victory over Penn State to close the season would seal an NCAA bid. A competitive loss to Michigan, a victory over Penn State and at least one win in the Big Ten tourney would at least give Minnesota a shot at making the Big Dance. Anything short of that would be leaving a lot up to the selection committee. But that Iowa victory was one the Gophers had to have.
• Muhammad: He’s played just 140 minutes for the Wolves this season, but 57 in the past three games. Tuesday was easily his most complete game as an NBA player — 8-for-13 from the floor, six rebounds, a pair of steals and 20 must-have points (10 in the fourth quarter) in a 110-101 comeback victory over Phoenix.
The Wolves’ playoff hopes are dangling by a thread, but they would have been severed without a victory over the Suns.
Now they’re 5½ games back of Phoenix with 25 games to play. They’re also four games behind No. 9 Memphis. But the Wolves play 14 of their final 25 games at home; 14 of the final 25 are on the road for Phoenix, while 16 of the final 26 are on road for the Grizzlies.
If the Wolves can take advantage of some weak foes coming up, there still might be a chance to make a run thanks to Tuesday’s victory.