Refreshed Gophers look to Big Ten tourney

Adam Fink

In the last two games, Minnesota’s men’s basketball forward Stan Gaines said he has noticed the Gophers have been a little more relaxed and refreshed.

This has translated into better play on the court. In losing a four-point game at Iowa on Feb. 28 and beating Penn State on Saturday, Minnesota (11-17, 3-13 Big Ten) said it didn’t worry about its record, its Big Ten standing or how a season with high hopes ended with a last-place conference finish.

The Gophers’ new season begins Thursday in the Big Ten Tournament against Purdue (17-12, 7-9) and if Minnesota wants its season to continue past the weekend, it will need to win four games in four days.

“We did a good job of turning our minds over with a couple games to go in the season,” said Gaines, who, as a high school senior in 2001, watched in person as the Hawkeyes won the title in his hometown, Chicago. “I look at it like our NCAA Tournament starts Thursday. We wiped the slate clean.”

In the seven-year history of the tournament, Iowa is the only team to accomplish the four wins in four days feat and earn the Big Ten’s automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.

Iowa, the sixth seed that year, also was the lowest seed to win the tournament. Minnesota is seeded 10th this season.

“Guys have just kind of been playing loose and realizing this is where the fun can start if we look at it optimistically,” guard Adam Boone said. “It won’t be as difficult if you look at it as one day and one game at a time and just focus on winning the next game.”

Gaines said on Thursday that Minnesota has the opportunity to cause some damage and that starts with defeating the Boilermakers, who beat the Gophers twice this year.

The sophomore has adjusted his mindset to reflect the Gophers’ position.

“Don’t try to climb the mountain but just take it one step at a time,” Gaines said. “You win a couple and your confidence starts rising.”

Boone playing well

Boone had one of his best games with the Gophers last Saturday in a 78-62 victory over Penn State.

The point guard tallied 10 assists, had zero turnovers and added seven points. It was the junior’s best turnover-to-assist ratio of his career.

However, Boone credits his improved offense to his play on the other end of the court.

“My defense picked up,” the Minnetonka, Minn., native said.

“I had a better focus. I was trying to make things happen defensively and that usually translates to better offense.”

Since returning to the starting lineup at Indiana on Feb. 18, Boone has struggled, making his performance against the Lions all the more satisfying.

In his four previous games, Boone had 13 turnovers and 11 assists.

Final player of the week

After leading his team to two victories last week – including at Michigan State – Wisconsin’s Devin Harris was named the season’s final Big Ten player of the week.

Harris, a junior guard, averaged 22 points, 4.5 rebounds and 2.5 assists and narrowly missed winning the league’s scoring title. The Gophers’ Kris Humphries edged out Harris for that honor. Harris is the front-runner for the league’s player of the year award, which will be announced today.