No rest for U; Hoosiers are next for men’s basketball

Todd Zolecki

The Gophers men’s basketball team might want about a week off to kick back, relax and celebrate its Big Ten championship. After the way it won the title, beating Michigan 55-54 in the game’s final seconds on Wednesday night, the players may need it.
But that won’t happen. They have to overcome the excitement and settle down for a team it shocked on the road Jan. 8: Indiana.
“We know the fans will be great, to give us a welcome home,” Gophers guard Bobby Jackson said. “The game will be hyped, and we’re going to have to put the Big Ten championship behind us when we step on the court.”
That might not be easy. Fans at Williams Arena will want to congratulate No. 2 Minnesota on its recent accomplishment.
“It’ll probably be the loudest it’s ever been in five years since I’ve been here,” Gophers center Trevor Winter said.
The roar will be deafening if the game is similar to the one in Indiana. The Gophers overcame a seven-point deficit in the game’s final 58 seconds to win in overtime, 96-91.
The win propelled the Gophers to 3-0 in the conference. They are now 14-1 and 25-2 overall.
Gophers coach Clem Haskins doesn’t want the whole state to break out in celebrations and festivities just yet. They have three Big Ten games left to play and hopefully a few more in the NCAA tournament.
“It’s too early to celebrate,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of basketball games left. It’s something we do as a team. We’re a family, and we’re going to keep it within the family.
“We’d like to have a major event down the road, and we’d like that to be April 1 after coming back from Indiana.”

MVP! MVP?
Jackson scored 18 points, grabbed nine rebounds and had three steals against the Wolverines. He made a difficult baseline jumper to tie the game and a game-winning free throw with 2.9 seconds left. Those types of performances have him billed as a Big Ten Player of the Year candidate. His toughest competition is Iowa guard Andre Woolridge.
Gophers forward Quincy Lewis, of course, thinks Jackson deserves it.
“He’s been playing big all year,” he said. “That’s what an MVP does. We say there’s no superstars on this team, but we have a bunch of go-to players that really step up. Bobby made some great shots.”
Down and out?
Michigan is in danger of not making the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1991. After Wednesday’s 55-54 loss to the Gophers, the Wolverines are 17-10 and 7-8 in the Big Ten. A real surprise considering many people predicted Michigan, not Minnesota, to win the conference championship this season.
What went wrong for Michigan? It started the season 8-0 with wins over Duke and Arizona, but slowly began to fade. The Wolverines lost games to Memphis, Pittsburgh and opened the Big Ten season with a loss to Ohio State at Crisler Arena. They entered Wednesday night’s game with a three-game losing streak.
Michigan coach Steve Fisher must have felt the season slipping away. Monday he released a statement to the Ann Arbor News and The Michigan Daily, the University’s student newspaper, asking for increased fan support at the Minnesota game. The move is unusual for Fisher, but he probably felt a loss to Minnesota would put the Wolverines in a precarious position for the tournament.
“If we get in the NCAA tournament that’s fine and great, but right now we’re going to worry about winning the rest of our games,” Michigan guard Travis Conlan said after the game.
The Crisler crowd was said to be the loudest all season, but several seats toward the top of the arena were empty.
The Wolverines locker room was closed to the media following the game, also outside of the norm for Michigan. Robert Traylor and Conlan, still in their uniforms, spoke at the postgame press conference. Traylor had his head down most of the time, visibly upset about the loss.
“I just ask myself, `Why can’t we pull off close games anymore?'” Traylor said. “We haven’t been able to do that in the Big Ten.”
Fast break points
ù The Gophers are the last team in Big Ten history to win the conference title before it starts a Big Ten tournament, which will start next year.
“They’re part of history,” Haskins said. “It’ll be a good trivia question in the years to come. All the guys on this team can say they were part of the last team to win a championship with an 18-game schedule.”