Safety is more important than any home victory, so Gophers basketball coach Richard Pitino and players hope their fans can be safe and fight through the extreme-cold weather Wednesday night to attend the Illinois game.
Temperatures with wind chill are expected to be as frigid as 50 degrees below zero on Wednesday, which would be the coldest Twin Cities day since January 1996.
“Everybody needs to be safe – I want to be clear on that,” Pitino said Tuesday. “I don’t want to blow it off like tough it up and come to the Barn. I don’t want to send that message. But if you do come, bring a little bit extra, because we need you.”
The University of Minnesota announced Tuesday and Wednesday classes would be cancelled due to dangerously cold weather. The basketball game will be played as long as the Illini team and officials are present for the 8 p.m. tip, according to Gophers officials.
Illinois announced its arrival via Twitter on Tuesday night:
On Sunday night, the Gophers won 92-87 against No. 19 Iowa at home. The announced attendance was 11,582 for the border rivalry game. That was the largest crowd at the Barn this season.
“You just got to start the car early, get the heat going,” senior guard Dupree McBrayer said. “It’ll mean a lot to have the fans there, especially with this severe cold weather. It all starts with the fans, so hopefully we have a good crowd.”
Gophers freshman center Daniel Oturu missed Sunday’s game with a shoulder injury, but his status for Wednesday’s Illinois game.
“We walked through stuff yesterday,” Pitino said. “He did a little bit of individual instruction. We hope to decide by game time.”
Oturu, who averages 10.2 points, 7.2 rebounds and 1.7 blocks this season, scored 17 points and eight rebounds in the loss at Illinois on Jan. 16. His absence meant another big man had to step up Sunday. That presence came from 7-foot senior Matz Stockman, who had six points in the first half.
Stockman said he worked hard in practice to be ready to contribute if the Gophers needed him again. He hadn’t played before Sunday since the last Illinois loss.
“The past couple weeks everyone has been locked in at practice,” Stockman said. “We’ve been treating it like it’s an actual game. We’ve all been super focused. I think it came from that loss to Illinois. I knew whenever I got the opportunity I would be ready for it.”