Defense main asset for high-scoring Clark

Tim Klobuchar

Gophers guard Kevin Clark has scored in double figures in seven of his last eight games, but his most important contribution to the team still might be on defense.
While he scored 17 points in Minnesota’s win over Michigan on Saturday, including four three-pointers and a breakaway slam, Clark’s defense on Wolverines guard Louis Bullock was equally important.
Bullock averages 15.3 points per game and is one of the top three-point shooters in the Big Ten, but he struggled all day to find good shots against Clark. Bullock finished with 12 points, and wasn’t a factor when the game was still in doubt.
It was the second straight game in which Clark had been given the task of shadowing a great shooter. He guarded Illinois’ Kevin Turner in Wednesday’s loss to the Illini, with mixed results. Turner had 19 points, but just five after halftime.
“He has the great quickness to be a great defensive player,” Minnesota coach Clem Haskins said of Clark. “I think he’s proven that in the last few ballgames. We’ve put him on some of the best offensive players in the league. Tonight he proved he can guard the great players.”
Clark has been the designated “chaser” for the Gophers in the last two games, playing man-to-man while the rest of the team plays a zone. Haskins normally employs a straight man-to-man, but Minnesota’s lack of depth and talent make a gimmick defense almost necessary.
“We had to do something,” Haskins said. “In coaching, when you’re outmanned, you don’t have the numbers to work with and you don’t have the talent to match-up, you have to find a way defensively to keep them off-balance.”

Loosening the reins
After Saturday’s win, Haskins applauded his assistant coaches, who convinced Haskins to give the team Thursday off from practice.
“I work them hard. I don’t believe in taking time off,” Haskins said. “You get better because you work, but sometimes I work too hard.
“We had good, live legs today, and that was the key to making shots.”
Haskins diverted from his philosophy again this week, giving the Gophers a day off Monday. It’s welcome news to the Gophers, who have battled injuries all season.
“Anytime we can get a day off, I think it’s to our advantage,” senior swingman Sam Jacobson said.
Great expectations
It was announced Saturday that Jacobson has been invited to compete in the ESPN National Slam Dunk Contest at the Final Four in San Antonio.
The 6-6 Jacobson had a chance to validate that selection with less than a minute remaining against Michigan when he broke free for an uncontested jam. While his two-handed slam was more than 99.9 percent of the crowd could ever hope to achieve, it was nowhere near Jacobson’s best.
Jacobson said after the game that he was worried about someone coming from behind, and that he was just being cautious.
“That’s the first time this year we played him all 20 minutes of the second half,” Haskins said. “I didn’t know what to expect. If he had fresh legs, he probably would’ve taken off from the top of the key and given everyone something special to see. There’s no one better in the country at dunking than Sam Jacobson. I’m not a guy that gets excited about dunks, but he gets me excited.”
Off the dribble
ù With the win over Michigan, which was televised on CBS, Minnesota improved its record to 4-5 in nationally televised games this season. The Gophers’ game at Iowa on Thursday (ESPN) is the last nationally televised game of the year until the Big Ten tournament.
ù The Gophers’ bench scored two points on Saturday. Michigan’s scored four.
ù Eric Harris’ three steals at Illinois on Wednesday gave him 165 in his career, two more than Arriel McDonald. Harris is now fourth in school history, just eight steals behind Voshon Lenard and Townsend Orr.