The potential was there earlier this season for the Gophers to be one of the better defensive basketball teams in the Big Ten.

They have the top shot blocker in the conference with Liam Robbins. Gabe Kalscheur is one of the best on-ball defenders in the league.

That was a good place to start, but there was something missing. That was evident with Richard Pitino watching his team get carved up in lopsided losses, especially on the road.

The Gophers weren't playing winning team defense.

Everything came together last Saturday for the Gophers best overall defensive performance so far this season in the 75-57 win against No. 7 Michigan at Williams Arena.

The No. 17 Gophers will look to carry that forward when they resume play Saturday against Maryland, as Wednesday's game at Nebraska was postponed because of COVID-19 cases within the Cornhuskers program.

Michigan had one of the most efficient offenses in the country that had clobbered the Gophers by 25 points just 11 days earlier in Ann Arbor, but it was a different story in the rematch.

"The change was we turned up the heat on the ball," Pitino said. "We changed a lot of our coverages defensively."

Not only did the Wolverines tie a season-high with 20 turnovers, but they also were held to their fewest points of the season on just 39.3% shooting from the field, also a season-low.

In the last meeting on Jan. 6, Michigan scored 82 points on 56.9% shooting from the field, including 62% in the second half. The Gophers trailed by 37 points, their largest deficit in a game since 2016.

"Collectively, I thought we were more of a team defensively," Pitino said. "We were trapping better. We were rotating out of traps better on Hunter Dickinson. We were providing a little bit more help."

Pitino called Kalscheur the best perimeter defender in the Big Ten. And it showed holding Franz Wagner to eight points on 3-for-9 shooting in 34 minutes. Dickinson had a career-high 28 points in the previous game against the Gophers, but he was held to just nine points in the rematch in Minneapolis.

Pitino challenged his 7-footer Robbins to be tougher against Dickinson the second time around. The Gophers having an inside presence was a big step toward an improved defensive effort.

"'He's a really good freshman, but you've got to act like the junior in this one,' " Pitino said he told Robbins.

Robbins had 22 points and eight rebounds, but he also added two blocks and two steals. Posts Eric Curry, Isaiah Ihnen and Brandon Johnson combined for 13 rebounds and five steals. Even rarely-used reserve center Sam Freeman helped the Gophers on one possession draw a charge by moving his feet.

"We really just wanted to make sure we pressured them and got them out of their sets," Robbins said. "When they're running their sets, they're undefeated. We got pressure into them."

Seven of the team's season-high 12 steals came from the U's frontcourt. But the Gophers guards were just as disruptive on double teams with their hands up to create deflections.

The first half ended with the Gophers forcing a shot-clock violation on Michigan, which summed up how much more engaged they were defensively.

One of the highlights of the second half came when freshman Jamal Mashburn Jr.'s steal near midcourt led to him connecting with Robbins sprinting down the lane for an emphatic dunk.

In Minnesota's upset on Saturday, the Wolverines shot just 37.5% from the field in the second half, while trailing by as much as 23 points. The Gophers recognized that they let poor shooting carry over to severe struggles defensively in the second half of losses.

Illinois shot 61%, Wisconsin shot 65% and Iowa shot 70% in the second half against Minnesota in three games this season. That turned manageable deficits into insurmountable territory, but the Gophers flipped that around in their last game against Michigan.

This last defensive effort could be something for the Gophers to build on Saturday and beyond.

"Coaches are going to do what they do and scout very well," Kalscheur said. "We just have to be attentive and take in all the information. We just have to come out like we did [Saturday] connected as one unit on the offensive and especially defensive end. If we bring that fight like we did I feel like it's hard for anyone to beat us."