Minn. puts pride on the line in regular season finale

Minnesota has lost six in a row heading into Senior Day against Nebraska.

Charlie Armitz

If there’s ever a game to play for pride, the Gophers have it this Saturday against Nebraska at Williams Arena.

Minnesota (5-12 Big Ten) has lost six straight games and has likely lost all chance at earning an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament.

In the last two seasons, the Gophers have a 2-16 record in February and March games and have been winless at home in those months.

Williams Arena has been especially unkind to Minnesota this conference season. The team has gone 2-6 at the Barn and played in front of only two sellout crowds.

Head coach Tubby Smith said Monday that distractions in the Minneapolis area may have contributed to the team’s struggles, and he reiterated those concerns following Tuesday’s 52-45 loss at Wisconsin.

“We’ve got pretty good athletes,” Smith said. “To lose the games we’ve lost the way we’ve lost them … it must be mental, so there’s got to be some type of distraction.”

While the Gophers gave a solid effort Tuesday, they have lacked energy more often than not at the Barn this season.

Saturday’s contest offers them little incentive to compete, although a win would give them momentum heading into the Big Ten tournament on March 8-11 in Indianapolis.

Defeating the Huskers would also ensure that the Gophers avoid a bottom-two seed in the tournament, which means Minnesota would not have to play Indiana or Purdue in the first round. Instead, it would likely play Iowa (8-9) or Northwestern (7-10).

If there’s any team to open the door for the Gophers to make a postseason run, it’s Nebraska, which is tied with Penn State for the worst record in the Big Ten at 4-13.

The Huskers have lost seven of their last eight games, including a 62-34 defeat at Michigan State on Feb. 25. Five of those losses were by double digits.

Minnesota defeated Nebraska 69-61 in Lincoln, Neb., on Feb. 5, but both teams have slipped considerably since then.

Notes

—The Gophers will recognize seniors Ralph Sampson III and Trevor Mbakwe as part of Senior Day on Saturday. Sampson scored his 1,000th point in the loss to Wisconsin.

—Minnesota has shot 31 and 24 percent in its last two games, respectively — both season-lows at the time. The Gophers’ 24-percent effort Tuesday was the lowest shooting percentage of any Big Ten team this season.

—Junior point guard Julian Welch has missed the last game and a half with a hip pointer, which could allow freshman Andre Hollins to start for the third consecutive game.

—Nebraska’s best player, shooting guard Bo Spencer, injured his ankle in Saturday’s loss to Michigan State.