It was like a bad dream, recycled and replayed in a different arena, with the villain wearing different colors.
For the second consecutive game, a Big Ten opponent — this time, Northwestern — picked apart Minnesota's perimeter defense like an unfinished sweater, connecting on 15 three-pointers and beating up the Gophers 72-66 for only its third victory in conference play.
After the loss — which had Northwestern coach Chris Collins whooping in the media room and hanging out to watch the Duke-North Carolina finish — the Gophers have allowed 33 long balls in the past two games. One contest after allowing 18 made threes that set an Indiana school record and a Minnesota record for threes allowed, the Gophers (16-11, 5-9 Big Ten) coughed up the second-most threes in school history.
"It didn't even seem like they were hitting the rim anymore," senior point guard DeAndre Mathieu said. "It was just all net. I don't know what we can do. I guess we've got to do a better job of contesting."
The theme was oddly similar to Sunday's thrashing in Bloomington, when Indiana hit 18 three-pointers and overwhelmed the Gophers 90-71.
That night, Minnesota was mostly punished in its zone defense. Wednesday, coach Richard Pitino flipped strategies and played almost all man-to-man, but it didn't seem to matter.
Northwestern (12-14, 3-10) — which was coming off a raucous overtime victory over Iowa at home to end a 10-game losing streak — started early and didn't stop, coming off screens for open threes or grabbing offensive rebounds and kicking them out for shots beyond the arc.
Hands in face or wide open, zone or man-to-man … it's made little difference in the past two games.
"Invent a new defense?" Pitino suggested when asked where the Gophers go from here. "You give up 18 threes last game so you've got to try something else. Obviously it didn't work."
Andre Hollins (12 points, six assists) picked a bad night to end a tear that had him averaging 21.3 points through the past eight games. The senior guard had four three-point plays in the second half — his first points of the game came with about 12 minutes left in the game — but he was unable to help Minnesota stop the bleeding defensively and unable to mask it with a big scoring night the Gophers masses had come to expect. He did, however, manage to move past Kevin McHale and Sam Jacobson into fourth place on the Gophers' career scoring list.
Freshman Nate Mason led Minnesota with 15 points, four rebounds and a handful of big plays off the bench, and Joey King added 12 points and five rebounds. Meanwhile, six Northwestern players finished with nine points or more, led by freshman guard Bryant McIntosh (17 points, six assists), who has scored 25 points in the past two games.
After knocking down nine threes in the first half, Northwestern decided not to fix what wasn't broken. Freshman Vic Law sank three three-pointers in the first five minutes of the second half and Northwestern built a 52-42 lead with 13:07 to go. The Wildcats, who shot 46.9 percent (15 of 32) from three-point range, would hold the momentum until the end.
And now, the Gophers head into a brutal stretch that includes a pair of games against No. 5 Wisconsin and a road trip to Michigan State.
"It's extremely important that we fix this defense because Wisconsin — everybody on the team shoots it, one through five," Mathieu said. "So we're going to have to get back to work."