Gophers show little intensity in crunch time

Anthony Maggio

CHICAGO – Minnesota’s men’s basketball team’s 76-64 first-round Big Ten tournament loss to Northwestern on Thursday came after an interesting sign.

“We had a horrible practice yesterday,” Wildcats coach Bill Carmody said. “Actually, the day before we beat Indiana we had a horrible practice. So maybe that’s a good omen.”

The Gophers, on the other hand?

“We practiced well the last few days before the game,” guard Kevin Burleson said. “I don’t understand how we didn’t come out ready.”

Minnesota did come out strong against Northwestern, finding Michael Bauer for eight quick points and jumping out to a 15-6 advantage. It would turn out to be the Gophers’ largest lead of the game.

After entering halftime up 20 on the Wildcats in the teams’ previous meeting, Minnesota squandered its first-half advantage and went into the locker room down two. Meanwhile, Bauer disappeared on the offensive end, taking only two shots in the final 16 minutes of the first stanza.

“I felt like I took the open shots I had,” Bauer said. “On some of the shots that were closer calls, I felt I needed to give the team a better look so I would send the ball back out. In the second half, the focus was more on getting the ball to Rick (Rickert) inside.”

Rickert did score the first two points of the second half. Unfortunately, they were in the wrong hoop. Rickert tipped a Mohamed Hachad miss and it rolled in the basket. Bad luck, certainly. Foreshadowing, definitely.

Northwestern scored the first eight points of the second half to take a 10-point lead, and Minnesota never recovered.

Offensively, the Gophers couldn’t get in sync, while the Wildcats continued to make baskets over Minnesota’s zone defense. Minnesota’s lack of concentration was most evident at the free-throw line, where the Gophers were an abysmal 7-of-16 in the second half.

“We didn’t put forth a near good enough effort, considering what was on the line,” Rickert said. “I’m still in disbelief.”

Rickert had trouble finding a rhythm on offense, finishing tied with Bauer for a team-high 16 points, but on 6-of-17 shooting. Bauer continued to pass up his shots in the second half, and didn’t score again until only 1:38 remained in the game.

For Northwestern, Jitim Young and T.J. Parker torched Minnesota, finishing with 20 and 18 points respectively. The Wildcats were a combined 10-of-22 from the three-point line.

But the most telling evidence the Gophers didn’t come to play was Northwestern’s 28-22 advantage in points in the paint. With Minnesota’s size advantage, that was worse than any omen.