Read Blake Schuster's special to the Star Tribune on the Gophers' 82-58 loss at Northwestern, here.
Minnesota coach Richard Pitino and Co. and the down-and-out Gophers dropped their 12th straight game on Thursday in dramatic fashion, sustaining an uglier-than-most 82-58 loss at Northwestern.
But what makes the defeat most mind-boggling is the the fact that we've seen it once already this season.
Less than a month ago, the Gophers fell 77-52 at home against the Wildcats. They looked incapable then of stopping the three or mustering much offense of their own.
But one day after Pitino declared that he did a “horrible job” with the game plan for Northwestern on that bewildering January afternoon, the Gophers looked even less prepared this time, in Evanston.
It was tough to tell which was more repugnant – Minnesota’s spastic, disjointed offense or its disconnected, often absent defense. The Gophers managed just 33.3 percent of their shots, worse than the 39.1 percent they managed against Northwestern at home, and made just four of 18 three-pointers, one short of their for 5-for-18 perforamance the first time around.
On the other end, the Wildcats, who came in with the league’s worst field goal percentage in Big Ten play (39.8 percent), had their way in the paint and on the perimeter. Northwestern drilled 12 three-pointers, one more than it managed in Take 1, and converted 53.7 percent of their shots, which would be a Big Ten best if not for the blistering 56 percent the Wildcats sank from the field in Minneapolis.
It was enough to make us wonder if the postgame handshake was, uh, a little tighter than usual.
Pitino has bonded with Northwestern coach Chris Collins since joining the Big Ten, and it’s understandable. Not only is Collins a) in a similar position as a third-year coach having taken over a historically struggling program and b) son of a famous coach, but – at least from the media’s perspective – Collins is bright and very likable.
But now, Collins’ Wildcats have gone 4-1 against Minnesota since Pitino took the helm and have totally and completely abused the Gophers in the last two, sweeping them for the first time since 2006 by a stunning total of 49 points.
Beyond the stats, the second loss -- although by one point fewer -- felt worse because the lightning had struck once already and the Gophers were still doing laps in the swimming pool.
Right now, Northwestern owns the Gophers in a way that no other Big Ten team has. It shouldn’t be that way, because the Wildcats, on a five-game losing streak before catching woeful Minnesota on Thursday, aren’t 49 points better than the Gophers. But in two games this year, Northwestern has played with great energy and enthusiasm while Minnesota appeared eager to get off the court.
For the last five games, the Gophers looked much improved. Each of those losses came by seven points or fewer. Minnesota had chances, and it was easy to believe its first win was just around the corner. Thursday, that sentiment couldn’t have seemed farther from the truth. As Pitino said after the game, the team “took a step back” against a team for whom the Gophers and the coaches have had absoltutely no answer.