In 1998, the Minnesota men’s basketball team made Marquette a casualty in its National Invitational Tournament title run.
Upon dispatching the Eagles 73-71 at Williams Arena, Minnesota went on to New York to capture its second NIT title in six years.
In the year and a half since that game, Marquette underwent an important coaching change, luring Michigan State’s associate head coach Tom Crean.
“Tom Crean comes from Michigan State where they were by far the most physical, best rebounding team in the Big Ten,” Gophers coach Dan Monson said.
Crean also served as Western Kentucky’s associate head coach from 1990-1994 — a school some guy named Haskins coached at from 1980-86.
On Saturday, the Eagles beat Chicago State 62-43, and held the Cougars to a paltry 25 percent shooting percentage. When a Chicago State shot came off the rim, it went primarily into the hands of a waiting rebounder from Marquette. The team finished with 54 rebounds.
Monson called the Eagles the toughest defensive challenge his team will face to date.
But it seems some pressure from the Minnesota defense could work wonders. Offensively, Marquette struggled to a final shooting percentage of 34.3 on Saturday.
The Eagles backcourt gave the offense a lift. Under the weather prior to the opening tip, guard Cordell Henry came off the bench to score 11 points in 18 minutes. Guard John Cliff added 14, along with seven rebounds.
Up front, Marquette is hoping Brian Wardle is no longer feeling the effects of the mild concussion he sustained Saturday.
Wardle won’t find much relief at The Barn. He’ll be tangling with Gophers center Joel Przybilla, who blocked nine shots Saturday against Texas-Arlington, and forward Dusty Rychart, who scored 22 points in the win.
Rychart’s effort earned Big Ten player of the week honors.
Minnesota will likely be without guard Kevin Nathaniel, who is suffering with a leg injury. The junior guard/forward did not practice Monday and is listed as day-to-day.
Monson said his team’s blowout win over Texas-Arlington was somewhat of a mixed blessing. It left them devoid of an intense 40-minute experience, the kind that Marquette might add to their resume.
Still, amid the fallout of Friday’s academic fraud report announcements, Monson knows his team needed something for the pain.
“We’re looking for positives right now in our program,” Monson said. “So I thought the pluses (of the win) definitely outweighed the minuses.”
David La Vaque covers football and basketball and welcomes comments at dlavaque.umn.edu.