U basketball fans hoodwinked at airport gate

by Tim Klobuchar

About 150 to 200 Minnesota Gophers fans gathered at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport late Wednesday night, anxiously awaiting the arrival of the new Big Ten champions.
The plane carrying the No. 2-ranked Gophers, who had clinched the title with a 55-54 win over No. 24 Michigan in Ann Arbor, Mich., that night, was scheduled to arrive at 11:30 p.m. The time passed with no Gophers sightings.
An announcement, that later proved to be false, came over the public address system saying the team had already come and gone from the airport. All but a handful of fans left the terminal disappointed.
The few that stayed were rewarded around 12:30 a.m., when the delayed Gophers finally arrived.
“I want to thank all the fans that came out there to meet us,” Gophers coach Clem Haskins said at a press conference Thursday, a few minutes before he would join his team in celebratory cake and punch. “We’re sorry we didn’t get in there earlier, but with airports and planes that happens sometimes. A few fans did stay, and we appreciate that.”
The botched victory celebration was one of the only hitches in Minnesota’s run to the Big Ten title, its first in 15 years. The Gophers are now 25-2, and their 14-1 Big Ten record is 3 1/2 games better than second-place Purdue.
Fortunately for Minnesota followers, they will still have a chance to show their appreciation at two more home games at Williams Arena. The first of those is Saturday against Indiana, a team the Gophers beat 96-91 in overtime on Jan. 8.
In that game, Minnesota erased a seven-point deficit in the last minute of regulation to force overtime. The eventual victory was the first indication that the Gophers were of championship caliber.
The Gophers may have only drank punch, but the possibility for a different kind of hangover still looms now that the long-awaited title is finally theirs. But Haskins said that with a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament still in the balance, it’s not likely.
“We just got through winning the Big Ten championship on the road in a very emotional game,” Haskins said. “When you have an emotional high like that, you can have a letdown after it. We’re going to try to avoid that, and I think this group will be ready.”
Haskins said the only change he plans to make for Minnesota’s last three regular season games is to play Charles Thomas and Russ Archambault a little more at guard to help alleviate the heavy minutes Bobby Jackson and Eric Harris have been playing. Other than that, Haskins wants it business as usual.
“I think once you get into postseason play, you don’t get any cute ideas or make a lot of changes,” Haskins said. “And I think that happens sometimes to coaches. I really believe in this team. This team understands how to win.”
Haskins hopes they understand how to win beyond the confines of their own conference, which, with their likely high seed in the tournament, will be expected.
Gophers senior center Trevor Winter perhaps put the title in its proper place when he rattled off other championships he has won at Minnesota: the NIT, the Great Alaska Shootout and the San Juan Shootout. Now, he can add the Big Ten championship.
“The only thing that would be better,” Winter said, “would be a national championship, and that’s in our sights.”
Still, the Big Ten title means enough that even a disappointing postseason won’t dampen the joy and satisfaction of one of the best seasons in school history.
“The memories will last forever,” Haskins said. “And that’s what is great about sports. No matter if you never win another Big Ten championship, it’s the memories that keep you going a lifetime.”