Gophers exhale slightly after 69-51 win over ‘Cats

by Brian Hall

Eight and half minutes into Wednesday’s game, Minnesota men’s basketball coach Dan Monson was irate and called a timeout.

Monson had just watched his team give away second-shot opportunities to Northwestern on three consecutive possessions. He quickly saw the game turning into the same type of affair Minnesota had lost to the Wildcats two weeks ago.

The third-year coach began ripping into his team. The screaming inside the huddle could be heard 30 feet away.

After absorbing a tongue-lashing, the Gophers ensured the outcome would be different this time against Northwestern. In front of 13,018 fans, Minnesota used a strong second half to put the Wildcats away 69-51, something they were unable to do two weeks earlier.

“With a team that shoots 25 threes, those aren’t your typical rebounds that fall within two to three feet,” Monson said. “They are track-down rebounds. We had a lot of guys standing thinking the other guy was going to get the ball.

“I told them, ‘It’s your job to get the ball, not somebody else’s. Everybody needs to go run down the rebounds.'”

One of the major factors in the turnaround was senior Travarus Bennett.

The 6-foot-7 swingman, who was hobbled during the first matchup this season, scored 16 points and was one of two Minnesota players in double figures.

But his hustle and determination might have been a bigger factor on this night.

Bennett tied for the team lead with seven boards and two blocks to go with a season-high six steals.

On more than one occasion, Bennett could be seen on the floor hunting down a loose ball or diving in front of a Northwestern pass, things missing from the Gophers while Bennett was hurt.

“He gave us a huge emotional lift,” said forward Michael Bauer, who was perfect from the field and led the team with 17 points. “He was playing hard, getting steals, being active and everybody just feeds off of him.”

The Wildcats (16-11, 7-8 Big Ten) hauled in 17 offensive boards for the second time this season, over eight more than their season average. But, Northwestern’s undoing Wednesday was its horrid field-goal shooting.

The Wildcats shot only 28 percent for the game.

“That’s two straight nights we have done that,” Northwestern coach Bill Carmody said. “We’re a 59 percent foul-shooting team. We have never been a good shooting team.”

In the first half, Minnesota (16-10, 9-6) provided company for the Wildcats’ misery. The Gophers shot only 39 percent but used a 9-2 run to take an eight-point halftime lead. Northwestern managed a mere two free throws over the last 9:15 of the half.

Unable to put Northwestern away in the first meeting, things would improve considerably this time around for Minnesota.

The Gophers shot 60 percent from the field in the second stanza – thanks in part to Bauer’s five-for-five performance – to pull away and win by double digits.

“A couple of guys were frustrated in the first half,” Bauer said. “But, we picked each other up, and took advantage of the weak spots.”

After taking care of business against the Wildcats, Minnesota now faces its most important game of the year Sunday against Illinois.

The Illini are fighting for a Big Ten title while the Gophers continue to battle for an NCAA tournament bid.

“I hope it is my last home game,” Bennett said about the possibility of playing in the NCAA tournament. “It’s a big game. Everybody has something to prove. I’m sure we will come out with hunger in our eyes.”


Brian Hall covers men’s basketball and welcomes
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