Gophers fall to Michigan, remain on the bubble

Minnesota shot a shade less than 46 percent from the floor in the loss.

Jace Frederick

A win in Ann Arbor, Mich., on Saturday and the Gophers might have been locked into the NCAA Tournament. A loss and they’d remained firmly on the bubble.

It’s safe to assume Gophers fans are still sweating after Minnesota fell 66-56 to No. 16 Michigan on Saturday night.

The Gophers couldn’t get enough production going on the offensive end against the Wolverines.

Minnesota, which shot better than 61 percent from the field in their win over No. 20 Iowa on Tuesday, hit on a shade less than 46 percent of their shots on Saturday. It hit a meager 5-for-18 from beyond the arc.

“I thought we were getting good looks,” head coach Richard Pitino told reporters after the game. “I thought we were running pretty good offense — shots weren’t falling for whatever reason.”

And Minnesota didn’t help itself with turnovers.

The Gophers turned the ball over seven times in the first half and dug themselves into a 31-20 halftime deficit.

While turnovers have plagued Minnesota throughout the Big Ten season, the game Saturday marked the 15th time in 17 conference contests the team has amassed double-digit giveaways.

“We’ve got to look ourselves in the mirror,” Pitino said. “That’s always been our Achilles’ heel is turnovers.”

Still, Minnesota fought back to make it a game.

The Gophers utilized big second halves from senior guard Austin Hollins and junior guard DeAndre Mathieu to trim the deficit to 54-52 with four minutes to play.

Hollins, who scored a career-high 27 points against Iowa, backed up that performance with 16 more on Saturday.

Pitino told Hollins the Gophers needed him to step up offensively.

“He did that,” Pitino said. “He made some noise there.”

Mathieu, meanwhile, flirted with a triple-double throughout the game. He finished with nine points, five assists, three steals and a team-high seven rebounds.

“DeAndre was much better in the second half,” Pitino said. “It wasn’t that he was bad in the first half, he wasn’t bad, but he wasn’t great.

“We need him to be great. In the second half, he was really good.”

Mathieu, however, failed to reach the 10-point plateau that appears so critical for his team. The Gophers fell to 0-7 in conference when he doesn’t hit double-digits in the scoring column.

After the Gophers clipped the margin to two points, they turned the ball over two times in less than a minute, allowing Michigan’s lead to balloon to 10.

“We fought back,” Pitino said. “I love their heart. We’ve just got to be smarter at the end of the game.”

Wolverines sophomore guard Nik Stauskas carried his team all game. Stauskas, a Big Ten Player of the Year candidate, finished with a game-high 21 points.

“Stauskas is as good as anyone in our league,” Pitino said. “He’s a big time, big time player. He really hurt us.”

The Gophers now likely need a win at home over Penn State on Sunday and at least one win in the Big Ten Tournament to sneak into the NCAAs.

“I think that we can play better basketball,” Pitino said. “I really do.”

They’ll need to.