Gophers look to rectify offensive woes at Ohio State

Minnesota shot 51.9 percent before the Big Ten season. Now, it’s struggling.

by Bob Wothe

Minnesota men’s basketball junior Vincent Grier stood in a back hallway of Iowa’s Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Saturday without his typical postgame enthusiasm, shying away from eye contact.

“I’m not going to say their defense was the best,” a dejected Grier said after a season-low six-point performance. “I just missed a couple shots.”

But somewhere inside, the harsh reality that he and the rest of the Gophers were now playing against Big Ten-level defense, rather than that of their nonconference slate, must have been setting in after the 66-60 loss.

Against Loyola Marymount on Jan. 3 – the team’s last game before the Big Ten season began – Minnesota shot a blistering 64.3 percent from the field.

That’s a far cry from the 33.3 percent the Gophers shot Saturday at Iowa.

Those two games reflect the larger reality of the season: Before Minnesota (12-4, 2-1 Big Ten) opened its Big Ten campaign at home against Penn State on Jan. 8, the team was shooting 51.9 percent from the field, which would rank sixth in the nation.

In three Big Ten games, however, the Gophers rank ninth in the conference in field goal percentage. Minnesota’s 40.2 percent clip from the field in Big Ten play puts it in front of only the Lions and Hawkeyes.

“We just don’t have any offensive continuity,” Gophers coach Dan Monson said. “We’ve got to make some adjustments offensively to Big Ten-level defense, if we’re going to have success against teams like Ohio State and Michigan State.”

Finding an answer to those offensive woes will be a big theme in today’s 7 p.m. game when Minnesota travels to Columbus, Ohio, to take on Ohio State (12-5, 1-2).

But, as Monson added, finding a solution isn’t all that simple.

Grier, the Gophers’ leading scorer at 16.6 points per game, has connected on just 7-of-21 shots in the last three games.

On Saturday, the presence of Pierre Pierce – perhaps the first player the Gophers have faced who could match up athletically with Grier – seemed to hinder him.

“I think, for the first time, we saw some of the newness and frustration of Vincent,” Monson said of the junior college transfer, who scored fewer than 10 points for the first time in his Minnesota career.

Jeff Hagen, the team’s second-leading scorer with 11.8 points per game, has struggled as well.

Though Hagen led the team in scoring at Iowa with 15 points playing with stitches in his chin and the lingering aftereffects of a concussion, he shot just 3-of-11 from the field and turned the ball over five times.

“We just got out of the way that we want to play,” Hagen said. “We just tried to do too much out there and settled for jumpers instead of working it around for a better shot.”

And for a team that played just one true road game in its nonconference schedule, maybe this was to be expected.

“Our preseason schedule did a lot of things for us,” Monson said. “But one thing it didn’t do is give us this adversity on the road.”

But Monson was willing to concede that finding answers offensively in a timely manner will be crucial to the team’s chances the rest of the way.

“We’re in the midst of a real juncture for us as far as exactly how good our season could be,” Monson said.

Women’s hockey honors

Minnesota’s women’s hockey team’s Natalie Darwitz was named WCHA offensive player of the week, while freshman Erica McKenzie was named rookie of the week Tuesday.