Minnesota drops Duel in the Desert finale

The Gophers had trouble keeping pace with a quicker UNLV team

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after Saturday night’s win over Kennesaw State, in which the Gophers picked up their 10th victory of the season ñ surpassing their win total from all of last season -, senior center Spencer Tollackson said Minnesota has adopted a “winning mindset” under the guidance of coach Tubby Smith.

But that mindset, which was so evident in the way the Gophers played during their first 11 games, was missing from the tip of Sunday’s game against the University of Nevada-Las Vegas at the Thomas & Mack Center ñ an eventual 81-64 loss to the Runnin’ Rebels.

Playing timid and in a hurry in the first half, rather than tenacious and controlled as was the case during its seven-game winning streak, Minnesota was down 8-0 in a blink and after allowing seven first half three-pointers trailed 42-28 after 20 minutes of play.

“They create problems because all their post people can shoot the three and they all look for it,” Smith said. “They spread the court pretty well. We left some pretty big gaps in our zone and our man-to-man (defense).”

And as the number of turnovers and missed shots mounted for Minnesota ñ which finished the game shooting 39.3 percent from the floor – so did UNLV’s lead. Four minutes into the second half, the Gophers looked up at the scoreboard and found themselves down 21 at 52-31, forcing Smith to take a timeout ñ something that has been a rare occurrence early this season.

Minnesota got within 15 on a Dan Coleman layup with 8:16 remaining in the contest, but would get no closer against the Runnin’ Rebels, which was a fitting nickname Sunday, considering the 15 turnovers UNLV forced led to 18 fast break points.

“The toughness area concerned me,” Smith said. “We had chances to take charges and kind of backed down when they got aggressive early in the game.”

While the Gophers would like to be considered an up-tempo team themselves, playing at an extremely fast pace appears to be an issue for them. Both of their losses ñ Sunday as well as at Florida State on Nov. 27 – have come against more athletic teams that are quicker and have more length than the Maroon and Gold.

“This will help us a lot,” Smith said. We haven’t seen a game like this since Florida State. Now (the players) will see what kind of things we were trying to get them to understand.”

Another thing the Gophers must fix before next Saturday’s first regular season Big Ten game at No. 7 Michigan State, is their composure on the road. For the second time in three road games, Minnesota looked shaky in an unfriendly environment.

Junior forward Jamal Abu Shamala said the team should be focused after its second loss in three road games this season.

“It could be good for us,” he said. “We have to get back to working to what got us to 10-2. Obviously we will be hungry going into Michigan State. “

Tournament MVP Wink Adams led UNLV with 20 points. Freshman shooting guard Blake Hoffarber paced the Gophers with 13.

While the Duel in the Desert finale was anything but satisfying for the Gophers, they were able to leave Las Vegas with two more victories than they came to Nevada with. On Friday night Minnesota won by the biggest margin in school history since 1890 when it beat Nicholls State 77-32. The Gophers also beat Kennesaw State 83-66 on Saturday evening.

Noteworthy:

Senior forward Dan Coleman and senior guard Lawrence McKenzie were named to the All-Tournament team.

Check out beat writer Zach Eisendrath’s men’s basketball blog for more coverage of the Duel in the Desert tournament.