Cornell another chance for Gophers to prove something

Minnesota head basketball coach Tubby Smith is getting some chances to watch his team develop and grow this season. He’ll get one more opportunity this weekend as his team takes on Cornell, just two games away from No. 11 Louisville.

Ashley Goetz

Minnesota head basketball coach Tubby Smith is getting some chances to watch his team develop and grow this season. He’ll get one more opportunity this weekend as his team takes on Cornell, just two games away from No. 11 Louisville.

The Gophers proved they can play with teams better than Concordia-St. Paul and Eastern Washington on Tuesday, beating Virginia in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge. It was a convincing win, and their first against a major-conference school . TheyâÄôll have another chance to prove themselves Saturday against Cornell, last seasonâÄôs Ivy League champions, 1 p.m. at Williams Arena. Cornell led No. 16 Syracuse by 16 points in the first half Wednesday, before a second-half collapse. They are one of two teams, along with Louisville, on the Gophers nonconference schedule that made the NCAA tournament last season. And though Virginia plays in college basketballâÄôs toughest conference, Cornell may be tougher, as Virginia was picked to finish last in the ACC this season. âÄúWe can play with those teams at that level,âÄù coach Tubby Smith said. âÄúEven though Virginia isnâÄôt playing at that level at this point in time, if we play the way we played at certain times, we can play with anybody.âÄù The Gophers opened the season with wins over Concordia-St. Paul, Bowling Green, Georgia State, Colorado State and North Dakota State. Smith said he made the schedule to build up slowly, and the Gophers are now just two games away from their neutral court game against No. 11 Louisville on Dec. 20. âÄúIf it was up to me, I’d play top-10 teams every game,âÄù junior guard Lawrence Westbrook said. âÄúWe all want to be warriors out there.âÄù With five newcomers, the progress has been slow but steady. True freshmen centers Colton Iverson and Ralph Sampson III have both been pleasant surprises. Iverson, in particular, has been a much bigger scoring threat than most anticipated, and has led the team in scoring in two out of the last three games. He scored 14 against Virginia and 20 against Eastern Washington. Iverson will have a tough time against Cornell big man Jeff Foote, who is averaging 13.4 points per game on a team that has a lot of scorers. Eden Prairie native Ryan Wittman, the son of Timberwolves coach Randy Wittman, leads the Big Red with 22.5 points per game.