Gophers hope to find defense for Michigan game

Anthony Maggio

With 7.6 seconds left in Wednesday night’s 76-75 win over Penn State, Minnesota forward Rick Rickert told his teammates he’d sink both of his free throws to give the Gophers the lead.

As promised, Rickert delivered.

“I play for the crunch time,” Rickert said. “That’s what I’m here for. That’s my time.”

Monson said if he had his choice of anyone in the country to shoot those free throws, Rickert would be his man.

“I was more worried with what we’d do at the other end with the seven seconds than the free throws,” Monson said.

And with good reason. Although Minnesota (11-6, 3-3 Big Ten) held Penn State to four points and one field goal in the final five minutes, the Gophers provided little resistance the rest of the second half.

Lions guard Brandon Watkins, who poured in 20 points, came within a few inches of squeaking his last second pass around Michael Bauer to Aaron Johnson who would have tried an easy layup at the buzzer.

Minnesota’s defense needs a better performance Saturday afternoon when Michigan comes to town.

The Gophers switch to a zone against Penn State stifled the Lions offense in the final five minutes.

But last Wednesday, the Wolverines (13-7, 6-1), specifically LaVell Blanchard punished Minnesota’s zone in a 75-63 victory.

Blanchard dropped 28 points on the Gophers in their first meeting, as Minnesota’s zone consistently lost him on the perimeter.

Gophers guard Maurice Hargrow knows his squad must match up with Michigan in their second meeting.

“We’ve got to be tougher,” guard Maurice Hargrow said. “We have to be a better man-to-man team.”

Rickert isn’t sure what the defensive strategy will be on Saturday, but said he expects to play more man-to-man defense to stop the Wolverines.

“When you have someone to guard like LaVell, you have to put someone on him who can keep his ground and stop him,” Rickert said.

Monson said if he had his way, the Gophers would play man-to-man defense for 40 minutes, but certain game situations dictate a zone defense.

But he doesn’t expect too much will change from the first time the two teams met.

“A lot of the things we did against Michigan we felt worked,” Monson said. “We’re not going to have drastic changes, we just feel like we need to play more consistent and a little bit better.”

The Wolverines had their 13-game winning streak snapped by Illinois on Wednesday, but still sit atop the Big Ten.

The key for Minnesota to hand Michigan its first losing streak of 2003, and for the rest of its season, is stronger man-to-man defense.

“That’s it, there’s no if ands or buts about it,” Hargrow said. “Either we’re going to do it or our season will be down the drain.”

Anthony Maggio covers men’s basketball and welcomes comments at [email protected]