Here is the mark that shows how far the Gophers have come: as they were getting trampled by Stanford, it was simply hard to believe. How could a team that had been playing so well lose so badly, so completely?
A few weeks ago, perhaps, a loss like this wouldn't have been that unexpected. Tonight, it felt unreal -- unlike the Gophers team we've gotten to know throughout this tournament.
It seemed that way for the Gophers, too. When Rodney Williams fouled out, he threw a towel at the bench and sat there -- arms slumped over knee -- for several minutes before he pulled his face out from underneath his jersey. He and Andre Hollins both had watery, red eyes afterward.
“After I fouled out, it finally hit me that it’s over for the season and we didn’t come out on top,” Williams said.
It was a tough game to watch, a tough one to write about and a tough lingering impression for the players to leave. But it doesn't change the fact that this team has grown astronomically in the past several weeks. The improvement, the tenacity, the passion and the journey -- all of that is real, and means something.
Notes from the 75-51 Stanford win and what I learned from this postseason:
- The Gophers shot just 37.3 percent from the field after going through several major shooting slumps.
- Hollins had maybe his worst game of the season, going 1-for-5 from the field, a surprising 2-for-4 from the line and finished with four points, no assists and five turnovers. "That’s just unacceptable for a point guard," he said afterward. "I kind of wasn't mentally tough today."
- Elliott Eliason played, but couldn't go long stretches. Still pretty sick with the flu. Finished with no points, one rebound.
- Lots of whistles tonight. 20 on the Gophers and 18 on Stanford -- it seemed to shake up the Gophers, too, and they looked to be playing tentatively.
- Williams scored 12 in the first half, but really struggled in the second, and didn't score at all. He was in foul trouble much of the time.
- Andre Ingram missed his third wide-open dunk of the NIT tournament, but it's hard to criticize him too heavily since he's spent the last couple weeks impressing everyone with his development. Tonight he finished with nine points and five rebounds -- a huge improvement from earlier in the season. Good news for a frontcourt that looks to be significantly thicker next season.
- Turnovers should be the Gophers' No. 1 focus in the offseason. The 22 slipups the Gophers had tonight would be less disconcerting if it hadn't become a norm, even as the Gophers were playing well.
- Any doubt that Andre Hollins and Rodney Williams are your leaders? You need only tonight as proof. Both struggled, and the team as a whole did. And after the game, no player seemed more distressed than the pair, who were clearly crushed. I don't doubt the game would have gone a lot differently had the two of them been a little more on. That said, the passion in both Williams and Hollins is very evident, and I think that speaks volumes for future success.
- As a whole, the team's heart impressed me this season. They came into this tournament beaten down, but full of inspiration and life. And they have come together and played better as a team than we've seen all year.
- There are many things to fix in the offseason. The Gophers still have a way to go. But even after tonight, if you're not encouraged, you're not paying attention.