Gophers refocus efforts for tourney

Todd Zolecki

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Clem Haskins saw something in practice Thursday that led him to believe the Gophers men’s basketball team is ready to make a serious run at the NCAA championship.
He watched Miles Tarver make two straight shots.
Tarver isn’t the world’s best shooter, Haskins said, but the coach is optimistic about the effort Tarver has put forth since arriving Wednesday for the NCAA tournament’s first-round game against Southwest Texas State. Tarver, like the rest of the team, has regained his focus.
“He said, ‘Coach, man, we have just six games to go and we win the national title. Why shouldn’t I bust my rump for the team the next two weeks and accomplish that?'” Haskins said. “I believe that. I think all the others feel the same way. Why shouldn’t we take charge?”
Haskins said his team’s practice Wednesday was one of the season’s best. He believes his team has rededicated itself since winning the Big Ten championship against Michigan on Feb. 26.
“This is something we’ve worked really hard at all year,” Gophers senior Bobby Jackson said. “We worked really hard as a team to get here. We know everyone is going to be gunning for us. We just have to stay positive and do the things that will help us to win.”
The Gophers aren’t feeling tournament pressure just yet and don’t feel they’re carrying the Big Ten’s reputation throughout the tournament. Haskins said the team is playing for itself, not for the conference.
Players showed no signs of pressure getting to them during the team’s practice Thursday night at Kemper Arena. Toward the end of it, they joked around with each other and showed off their dunking talents.
But the question for respect is often directed toward Minnesota. Despite its 27-3 regular season record and Big Ten title, those outside the Midwest think the Gophers are just another Big Ten team, a league which has a 3-11 tournament record the last two years.
Minnesota junior Sam Jacobson said he doesn’t feel the Gophers are being treated with any lack of respect.
“We have shown a lot of hard work this season, and hard work produces wins, and wins produces seeds,” he said.
The No. 1-seeded Gophers hope to get at the No. 16 Bobcats early. The Gophers’ rebounding and size are major concerns for Southwest Texas State. The Bobcats will attempt to become the first No. 16 seed to upset a top seed since the tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985.
“I don’t think it would be too good for us to say we’re going to make history or anything like that,” Bobcats guard Dameon Sansom said.
The Bobcats just seem pleased to be in the tournament, but said they have no intentions of just showing up, playing and returning home.
“Our plans are to go in the Midwest and beat Minnesota, not just to go in there and play the game,” Bobcats guard Donte Mathis said. “We don’t want to go out there and just show our faces.”
Unfortunately, if history keeps it current course, that’s all they might get a chance to do.
The Gophers, however, hope to keep going and be in San Antonio next week.
Haskins likes his team’s chances to make the Final Four. These past two days have only reinforced that idea.
“I told our guys at the beginning of the year that we had 30 basketball games to play,” he said. “I also told them I thought we had a chance to win all 30 of those games. We got 27 and that put us in position to be here and try to win six more. Now we have to win game one and advance. Our only goal is to win the national title.”

Notes: Chevrolet named Haskins the National Coach of the Year on Thursday. Past winners include Purdue’s Gene Keady, Arkansas’ Nolan Richardson and Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski. Haskins said he’s too busy concentrating on the tournament to really think about what the award means to him.