Lack of winning takes its toll on Gophers

At 0-9, the Gophers find themselves frustrated and a little mentally fatigued.

Adam Fink

Since Jeff Hagen joined Minnesota’s men’s basketball team three years ago, the Gophers have always been in the hunt for the Big Ten title in early February.

In 2001, the team started 4-6. In 2002, the Gophers were 7-3 and last year Minnesota opened the conference 6-4.

There was the excitement of watching other Big Ten opponents playing, hoping it will affect the standings in the Gophers favor.

And, of course, the team had that extra adrenaline rush, excited to compete for a chance at a trophy and a banner hung from the rafters of Williams Arena.

But this year is much different.

Off to their worst Big Ten start since 1933, Hagen and the rest of the Gophers (8-13, 0-9 Big Ten) finding themselves frustrated and a little mentally fatigued as they head into tonight’s home game against Michigan.

“We know we are a better team than how we have played,” Hagen said. “I think mentally all of those close games have taken their toll. We put forth so much effort, and work so hard, and to get no rewards wears you down.”

The Gophers have found themselves ahead or tied with less than 10 minutes remaining in six of their nine Big Ten games this season.

Against Illinois on Sunday, the wheels came off with about 13 minutes to go. The Gophers, who led by 15 points in the first half, lost the game 79-69.

“The mental state is, right now, very fragile as could be expected when you are in a string like we are,” Gophers coach Dan Monson said. “When you are 9-0, you know you are good. When you are 0-9, you have to give them some things to show them they are good.”

Monson said the team’s resiliency to mount comebacks and the first-half leads in three of their past four games shows the Gophers haven’t given up.

Although this season has failed to meet expectations from inside and outside of the program thus far, the Gophers have remained positive and have entered every game believing it will be a victory.

Hagen said the attitude in the locker room prior to tip-off of the Gophers loss at Wisconsin on Feb. 4 was one of the best he has been around.

“That was the most confident locker room I have been in,” the 7-foot center said. “That is what competitors do. Even though you are 0-9, you think you are going to win the next seven.”

Reserve Brent Lawson said the Gophers need to use the losses as additional motivation.

Lawson said the season has reached a spot where they want to prove they are better than their record.

“It’s frustrating to a point,” Lawson said. “Instead of letting it

frustrate you, you have to look at it to want it that much more.”

While the Gophers have been statistically eliminated from an outright Big Ten title, garnering their first conference win would be a huge emotional and psychological boost heading into the stretch run of the season.

And with three games against upper-tier schools on the schedule after tonight’s game, Minnesota needs the ultimate reward before the frustration boils over and the team becomes mentally drained.

“Once we get that first win, we will see what happens,” Hagen said.

“Right now we are worn down. A win can really rejuvenate us.”