U goes cold in loss at MSU

Tim Klobuchar

EAST LANSING, Mich. — For all the optimism surrounding the Gophers’ two-game winning streak, in which they made the basket look as big as a custom-made Robert Traylor hula hoop, someone still had to see it coming.
“It” was Minnesota’s 71-59 loss to No. 13 Michigan State on Saturday night, a game that extinguished the Gophers’ red-hot shooting that had burned Michigan and Iowa in upset victories the previous week, and rekindled images of the team that lost eight of its first 10 Big Ten games.
Too many signs pointed toward a cool-down. Minnesota was playing its second road game in less than 48 hours. Its opponent, now the conference leader, was coming off an embarrassing loss on the road, and figured to be ready to take out its anger on whatever team was next.
The Spartans have almost as much depth as the Gophers had last season. Throw in the fact that Michigan State has the best scoring defense in the Big Ten (62 points allowed per game), and suddenly that hula hoop shrinks to the size of a doughnut hole.
“Two games in 48 hours is a little more than this team can handle right now,” Gophers coach Clem Haskins said. “Especially when the second leg is against a team that’s capable of winning the Big Ten championship.”
To Minnesota’s credit, that discovery wasn’t made until the second half. In the first 20 minutes, the Gophers looked every bit as impressive as they did against the Wolverines and the Hawkeyes. They shot 54 percent, led by Sam Jacobson’s 13 points on 5-for-5 shooting from the field, and were tied 34-34 at halftime.
Then, their two-and-a-half game joy ride was pulled over. The Gophers shot just 30 percent in the second half. Jacobson hit his first shot, then missed his last eight. Eric Harris didn’t even attempt a shot after halftime, and the reigning Big Ten Player of the Week finished with just three points.
“Everywhere I went I was double- and triple-teamed,” said Jacobson, who finished with a team-high 17 points, three below his conference average. “They played great defense, and did a good job of chasing us around. Offensively, we only go so deep. Basically, they wore us out down the stretch.”
Not only did the Spartans’ prodding zone defense push the Gophers further away from the basket, but it pilfered, too, led by chief thief Mateen Cleaves. The sophomore guard, a favorite to win the Big Ten Player of the Year award, set a Michigan State single-game record with nine steals.
The Cleaves strip show wowed Spartans fans and flummoxed the Gophers, at least one of whom wondered if the officiating didn’t contribute to Cleaves’ thievery.
“I think he got away with a few reach-ins,” Harris said. “But that’s basketball. Sometimes I’m able to get away with certain things, too.”
Compounding the Gophers’ problems were the dead-on shooting of forwards Jason Klein (19 points on 5-for-8 shooting from three-point range) and DeJuan Wiley (11 points on 5-for-6 shooting from the field), and the aforementioned fatigue factor.
Haskins said weariness was a big reason for Jacobson and the rest of the Gophers’ misfires in the second half. One player who couldn’t be lumped with the others for the cold shooting in the second half was Kyle Sanden, mostly because he only played five minutes after halftime.
Sanden, who is on medication for a condition that causes fainting, struggled through a first half marked by poor decisions and dropped passes. The reason, Haskins said, was that his heavy minutes compacted into too short a time period, probably combined with a bump to the head, took their toll on Sanden’s limited stamina.
“He was out on his feet,” Haskins said. “He could’ve been in Michigan, Minnesota or Mississippi and it wouldn’t have mattered to him.”
After the loss, the place that might concern the Gophers most now is Chicago, where the Big Ten tournament will be held March 5-8. If Minnesota is to have any hope of reaching the NCAA tournament, it would almost assuredly have to win the conference tourney. To do that, the Gophers would have to play four games in four consecutive days, a feat that, mathematically anyway, would be more than twice as hard to do as winning two road games in 48 hours.
“We’ve got a job to do, and that’s to come and play,” Harris said. “We can’t get too caught up in how many games we’d have to play. The Big Ten tournament has to be our friend.”
The problem for the Gophers is that this friend, though only four games long, would seem like forever.

SATURDAY’S SUMMARY
Gophers 34 25 — 59
Mich. St. 34 37 — 71

MINNESOTA (11-13)
Jacobson 6-14 3-3 17, Lewis 3-10 0-0 7, Sanden 1-2 1-2 3, Clark 4-11 5-6 14, Harris 1-6 0-0 3, Nathaniel 4-5 0-2 8, Schoenrock 0-0 0-0 0, Ja. Stanford 0-0 0-0 0, Broxsie 1-1 0-0 2, Tarver 2-4 1-3 5. Totals 22-53 10-16 59.
MICHIGAN ST. (18-5)
Hutson 1-2 0-0 2, Klein 7-14 0-0 19, Smith 2-5 7-8 11, Cleaves 4-14 0-0 9, Bell 4-8 3-3 12, Davis 0-0 0-0 0, Peterson 1-4 2-2 4, Granger 1-3 0-0 3, Wiley 5-6 1-2 11. Totals 25-56 13-15 71.
3-point goals — Minnesota 5-15 (Jacobson 2-6, Lewis 1-2, Clark 1-3, Harris 1-4), Michigan St. 8-16 (Klein 5-8, Bell 1-2, Granger 1-2, Cleaves 1-3, Peterson 0-1). Fouled out — Lewis, Peterson. ReboundsMinnesota 34 (Clark 11), Michigan St. 33 (Bell 9). Assists — Minnesota 4 (Clark 2), Michigan St. 15 (Cleaves 10). Total fouls — Minnesota 16, Michigan St. 18. A — 15,138.