Target Center will feel like home for U men’s basketball

Todd Zolecki

The move isn’t permanent, but the Gophers men’s basketball team will trade its raised floor at Williams Arena for the parkay at Target Center tonight for its game against West Virginia.
It might not be the cozy confines of the Barn, but Target Center won’t exactly be a neutral site for No. 24 Minnesota. At least 17,000 fans are expected; the majority of which should be in the Gophers’ corner.
West Virginia coach Gale Catlett said playing the Gophers at Target Center doesn’t help his team anymore than playing them at Williams.
“Will the stands be neutral tomorrow night?” he said Monday. “When we play games in our state its not neutral. But we chose to come out and play the game because it will be a good experience for us.”
It’s the first time Minnesota will play at Target Center since 1993 when the Gophers won their first two games on their way to the postseason NIT championship.
Minnesota will actually try to improve on its performance during its 101-55 season opening victory Saturday against Stephen F. Austin. After the game, Coach Clem Haskins said his players needed to play better defense and do a better job taking care of the ball.
But after watching game film, Haskins said his team’s defensive effort was better than he had originally thought.
“I thought (Saturday) we were awful on defense, to be quite honest with you,” he said. “We weren’t great, but we weren’t that bad either. We forced them into some bad shots with our pressure defense.”
Haskins said some of the Gophers statistics, like their 64 to 38 rebounding advantage, are misleading because the Lumberjacks missed 56 shots.
The Gophers believe West Virginia (returns four starters from its 12-15 team last year) will be a better test than the Lumberjacks, but Catlett doesn’t think Minnesota looks at this game as a big challenge.
“I’m not sure the Gophers worry about us,” he said. “I wouldn’t think so. Last year was our first year in the Big East. They won 19 games in the Big Ten and went to the NIT, so I don’t think they worry about us too much.”
Some might think Minnesota is looking forward to this weekend’s San Juan Shootout in San Juan, Puerto Rico. The Gophers have the possibility of playing Florida, Missouri or Clemson. But Haskins said their main goal right now is to improve.
“When we go into San Juan, our goal is not to win the tournament — we’d like to win it — but our goal is to play everybody and try to improve as a team,” he said. “It’s much to early in the year to try and peak guys.”
Haskins said his team that won the 1994 Great Alaskan Shootout peaked too early. That team had Voshon Lenard, Townsend Orr, Jayson Walton and four current Gophers. That weekend was probably the best they played all year. Minnesota bowed out of the NCAA tournament in the first round to St. Louis.
“We went over there to win it,” he said. “We did that and we had some injuries throughout the year, and we hit a brick wall. We don’t want to do that anymore.”
Haskins hopes his team will peak later in the season.
“We’ve got a lot of work to do on both ends of the basketball court,” he said. “That’s why you play these games. No one is perfect in November and December.”

Notes: The Gophers dropped a spot in the AP Top 25 poll after Tulsa made its way into the rankings for the first time this year by winning its first two games.