ANN ARBOR, Mich. –Throughout much of Tuesday’s game at Crisler Arena, a Michigan fan held up a yellow sign with this simple, black-lettered statement: “Free Chris Webber.”
The placard was a reference, of course, to Tuesday’s arrest on drug charges of Webber, who starred on the Wolverines’ back-to-back Final Four teams of the early 1990s.
On the floor, meanwhile, the Gophers and Wolverines played a game that hearkened back to a different era — a much earlier, unglamorous one in which players shot a ball, often from a two-handed set position, into a woven peach basket, and produced football-like scores.
How bad was it? Veteran referee Jody Silvester walked over to the press table at halftime, at which point the score favored Michigan 26-15, and said, “Brutal, isn’t it?”
The second half was a different story, as both teams shook off their offensive doldrums to create a game more congruent with modern times. In the end, though, the game reminded the Gophers about everything that has gone wrong this season, as they fell to 0-6 in the Big Ten with a 65-57 loss.
“This is what sports is all about,” Gophers coach Clem Haskins said, obviously not referring to the game by itself. “What a difference a year makes. Last year I sat here smiling with a net around my neck after we clinched the Big Ten championship, and now we’re 0-6.”
One theory advanced by a Michigan sports writer for the difference, at least in the outcome of this game, was that the Wolverines were motivated by the ceremony that gave Haskins his twine necklace. Wolverines players were supposedly angry that the Gophers cut down the nets in their home arena.
Gophers players said they heard no statements like that from Michigan, and Haskins also rebuked it.
“If they say it motivated them, that’s just lip service,” he said. “Because that game was ugly.”
Said Gophers forward Sam Jacobson, who led the team with 21 points, 19 of them in the second half: “It was a terrible game. I don’t think their coaches are telling them they played a great game.”
The Gophers had to squint to see their miniscule first-half shooting percentage of 15 percent. Quincy Lewis (0-for-8) and Jacobson (1-for-7), Minnesota’s two leading scorers, were the main culprits in the lethargic offense. The Gophers needed more than six minutes to score their first points, then waited another three minutes to tack on basket number two.
They stayed close in the first half thanks only to Michigan’s own offensive decrepitude. The Wolverines shot just 32 percent and turned the ball over seven times.
“Obviously we shot the ball terrible,” Jacobson said. “We shot (15 percent) in the first half. That’s just bad. But you have to give them credit. They put pressure on the perimeter, and if you got by them, they had three trees waiting for you to block it.”
The Gophers were able to make the game close in the last few minutes, but were overmatched inside by the Wolverines, who were led by Robert “Tractor” Traylor’s 21 points.
Twice in the last two minutes, Jacobson hit three-pointers from the right wing to cut the Wolverines’ lead to five, but Minnesota could get no closer. Once, Traylor got an offensive rebound of a missed free throw, and grabbed a steal on the other end less than a minute later.
Although Traylor, Maceo Baston and Jerod Ward weren’t dominant, they were more than enough for Minnesota. Forward Antoine Broxsie fouled out in just 13 minutes, and the 6-7 Lewis, still hindered by the soft cast on his sprained thumb, also fouled out after scoring just eight points. Miles Tarver was hounded by the fans for his scoreless, four-turnover performance with “We want Tarver” chants from the student section when he was on the bench.
Even smaller players weren’t immune. Guard Eric Harris endured several hard collisions on screens, and had an ice pack on his right shoulder after the game to show for one such run-in with Traylor.
Though Harris said he thought the screens were illegal, moving ones, he added, “That’s the Big Ten.”
And this is the Gophers’ season. 7-10 overall, 0-6 in the Big Ten, with just a flickering hope for a turnaround kept alive by its stagnant pattern.
“The positive thing is that in our six losses, we were right there with a chance to win,” Harris said. “Last year we won all the close games, this year we’re losing them. But we’ve been close. That’s about the only confident thing I can see about it.”
TUESDAY’S SUMMARYGophers 15 42 — 57
Michigan 26 39 — 65
Lewis 3-11 2-2 8, Tarver 0-4 0-2 0, Sanden 5-13 1-2 11, Jacobson 7-20 4-4 21, Harris 1-6 3-4 5, Archambault 3-7 0-0 8, Clark 1-4 2-3 4, Nathaniel 0-0 0-0 0, Schoenrock 0-0 0-0 0, Broxsie 0-3 0-0 0. Totals 20-68 12-17 57.MICHIGAN (15-4)
Baston 2-6 9-14 13, Ward 2-9 3-4 7, Traylor 6-11 9-11 21, Reid 2-7 2-2 8, Bullock 4-11 1-2 10, Conlan 1-4 0-2 3, Asselin 1-3 0-2 2, Smith 0-1 1-2 1. Totals 18-52 25-39 65.
3-Point goals — Minnesota 5-15 (Jacobson 3-5, Archambault 2-5, Clark 0-1, Lewis 0-2, Harris 0-2), Michigan 4-18 (Reid 2-7, Comlan 1-2, Bullock 1-5, Smith 0-1, Ward 0-3). Fouled out — Lewis, Broxsie. Rebounds — Minnesota 45 (Jacobson 7), Michigan 49 (Baston 14). Assists — Minnesota 8 (Harris 5), Michigan 5 (Traylor, Reidd 2). Total fouls — Minnesota 29, Michigan 15. A-12,264.