A lot is on the line for Minnesota as they travel to take on Michigan

Gophers vs. Georgia State

Matt Mead

Gophers vs. Georgia State 61-68

Most would agree that MinnesotaâÄôs last well-played game was an emphatic 59-36 win against then-No. 19 Illinois on Jan. 29. That was also the last time Lawrence Westbrook scored in double figures. ItâÄôs probably not a coincidence. The junior is in the middle of a four-game slump, averaging 4.5 points per game since that win against the Illini. The fact that he still leads the team in scoring, with 12.3 points per game, is a sign of MinnesotaâÄôs offensive problems more than anything. âÄúIt shows that when I play well, we usually have a good game,âÄù Westbrook said. âÄúBecause of my aggressive play, when IâÄôm looking to score and being aggressive and getting open shots, it poses a lot of problems.âÄù The Gophers play at Michigan at 6 p.m. on the Big Ten Network in a game that will have a big impact on their NCAA tournament chances. The Gophers have lost three of their last four games during WestbrookâÄôs slump, and their only win came in a close call against last-place Indiana at home. Westbrook went 0-for-7 from the field in that game against the Big TenâÄôs worst defense. He is shooting just 20 percent from the floor over his past four games. Part of the problem is his height, coach Tubby Smith said. At an even 6 feet, WestbrookâÄôs jump shot is crucial against the Big TenâÄôs taller shooting guards and forwards that he goes against. âÄúWhat happens when youâÄôre missing shots you get a little antsy,âÄù Smith said. âÄúHeâÄôs no 6-foot-5, 6-foot-6 guard who can go in there and force a foul. Guys are making him shoot over them, especially when he takes it to the basket. âÄúLately he hasnâÄôt been able to get anything at the basket. ThatâÄôs what I would do to him. Let him get there, put my hands up, and make him make a tough shot.âÄù Making things tougher, Westbrook may spend part of his night going against Wolverines guard Manny Harris, whom many consider to be the top guard in the conference. Damian Johnson âÄî whom Smith called the teamâÄôs best defender âÄî will start the game covering him, but it will likely end up being a multi-player effort. Harris is second in the Big Ten in scoring, with 17.5 points per game, and also ranks in the top-seven in rebounds, steals and assists. âÄúWeâÄôll try to slow him down,âÄù Smith said. âÄúAll you can do is maybe force him to do things he doesnâÄôt do well. I donâÄôt know what those are.âÄù But that wonâÄôt matter if the Gophers canâÄôt get their sluggish offense going. In their past four games, a starter has only scored in double digits twice. Westbrook, according to players, is a big key to that turnaround. âÄúOnce he turns it around, itâÄôll get the whole team going,âÄù Johnson said. âÄúIt opens up a lot of things, especially inside scoring for Ralph [Sampson III], Colton [Iverson], Paul [Carter] and myself. If you have an outside shooter thatâÄôs tough, and a guy that can create for other people, that opens it up for everybody.âÄù Coach Smith said part of his problem was teams figuring out how to play best against him, but Westbrook doesnâÄôt agree. Teams focused on him earlier in the season, he said, and it didnâÄôt stop him. âÄúNo, teams key on Manny Harris and other top scorers, so thatâÄôs definitely not it,âÄù Westbrook said. âÄúItâÄôs just a matter of being fluid in the offense and getting in a rhythm. If I get into a rhythm and weâÄôre doing things offensively, then I canâÄôt be stopped, to tell you the truth.âÄù