Iowa teaches Gophers a lesson in 71-59 win

by Mark Heller

IOWA CITY — Oftentimes the difference between two teams that can’t make shots is how they find alternatives to put the ball in the bucket.
Players are groomed early on in life that if the jump shot isn’t working, there are two options: Keep shooting or drive to the basket.
Sunday afternoon’s affair between the Minnesota men’s basketball team and Iowa turned into such a tutorial, with lessons learned. Iowa took the ball to the basket, Minnesota kept shooting.
As a result of the lessons, the outcome was a Hawkeyes 71-59 win before 15,500 at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. Minnesota has lost four straight and helped Iowa end its three-game losing skid.
After a quick change of pace against Seton Hall, the Gophers (12-13, 4-10 Big Ten) were back to burying themselves beneath the rubble of their season-long trademark: a long run early in the game. This one was a 20-7 spree in the opening eight-and-a-half minutes.
“We have such a small margin for error right now,” Gophers coach Dan Monson said. “The only disappointment I had was how we came out to play. We don’t have enough to spot someone 19-7 and we lose by 12.”
Indicative of a team’s scoring struggles, all seven of Minnesota’s early points came from perhaps the most unlikely places. Centers Ryan Wildenborg or Kyle Sanden scored the early Gophers baskets.
Ever so slightly, Minnesota hung on by a thread, cutting the lead to 11 on a couple of occasions, including 37-26 at halftime on Mitch Ohnstad’s three-pointer. Twice in the second half Minnesota cut it to eight, but could never get closer. Turnovers and Iowa guard Dean Oliver (20 points, 3-for-5 on three-pointers) locked the door.
“Iowa did a great job of taking away our transition game,” Monson said. “I don’t think we got a transition basket. We don’t have a lot of ways to manufacture points when we’re trying to do it in a half-court set every possession. It’s very tough to watch.”
Minnesota shot a putrid 40 percent, and Iowa (12-14, 5-9) 41 percent for the game, but the Hawkeyes got to the free-throw line 26 more times than the Gophers, hitting 24. Dusty Rychart made the Gophers lone two free throws in the first half and the Gophers took just 14 from the charity stripe.
“Both teams are looking for easier ways to score,” Iowa coach Steve Alford said. “With (Joel) Przybilla gone and our situation all year, there isn’t an inside presence and that puts a lot of pressure on your half-court offense.”
More importantly, every time Minnesota got within a whiff, the Gophers let Iowa get out of trouble.
Minnesota: Shilling hits two free throws to close within 51-40 with 11 minutes left in the game.
Iowa: Jacob Jaacks hits two free throws.
Minnesota: Rychart scores to bring the deficit back down to 33-21.
Iowa: Dean Oliver hits two free throws.
Minnesota: Kevin Burleson hits a three to make it an eight-point game with just under seven minutes to go.
Iowa: Joe Fermino hits two free throws.
After Burleson’s three, the Hawkeyes went on a quick 7-0 run to start the fat lady singing.
“It would have been big to get to the free-throw line,” Schilling said. “When you don’t get the opportunities Iowa had, it’s tough. Then you have to make more buckets.”
Perhaps a bigger problem for the Gophers is that Sunday’s lack of free throws only represents a microcosm of the offensive woes the team.
“The problem is that we’re out of sync and struggling to shoot the ball and get shots we can have success with,” Monson said. “We don’t have a lot of answers for that.”

Mark Heller covers men’s basketball and welcomes comments at [email protected]