DES MOINES – It certainly seemed like Gophers fans came from far and wide to support their basketball team in Saturday’s NCAA tournament second-round game vs. Michigan State.
They really didn’t have to travel too far, though, just a short trek down I-35 from the Twin Cities to help create a homecourt atmosphere at Wells Fargo Arena.
Coach Richard Pitino and his players appreciated how well their Gophers faithful traveled to see the program’s first NCAA tournament victory in six years. It was estimated there were at least 7,000 fans combined for the games against the Cardinals and Spartans.
“The crowd was absolutely awesome,” Pitino said. “When I meet people I try to explain to them about Minnesota and how much pride our fans have, not just for men’s basketball but for the university. … It’s special all across the board.”
Maroon and gold took over downtown Des Moines, especially after Thursday’s 86-76 win vs. Louisville.
“It kind of felt like a home game, just because of the simple fact that we had so many fans there and they were loud and active the whole game,” junior guard Amir Coffey said. “Shout out to them for making that drive for us. They gave us a lot of energy. It was a really good turnout. When we got our seeding and found out we were playing here, we were very hopeful that they would come out for us, and they did.”
Stockman out again
Gophers senior center Matz Stockman wanted so badly to return to play during the NCAA tournament, but a concussion kept him out for the third consecutive game on Saturday.
Stockman, a 7-foot former Louisville transfer, didn’t clear concussion protocol since suffering the injury in the second half of the Big Ten tournament victory vs. Purdue last week in Chicago.
Washington talks future
Junior guard Isaiah Washington, who had nine points in 24 minutes Saturday, said, “Oh yeah, definitely,” when asked if wanted to return next season after his playing time diminished.
“I felt like I could’ve done some other things better,” Washington said. “But as far as a teammate, I felt like I did everything I could.”