Gophers advance to Sweet Sixteen

by Todd Zolecki

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — All those questions about Temple’s zone defense can finally be put to rest.
The Gophers men’s basketball team passed its test Sunday at Kemper Arena by thumping the Owls 76-57 in the second round of the NCAA tournament, and made it seem rather easy in the process. Minnesota is now off to the Sweet Sixteen in San Antonio where it plays Clemson on Thursday.
Heading into Sunday’s game, the No. 1-seeded Gophers kept hearing about Temple’s matchup zone defense and how it can give an offense fits. Players were quizzed about its effectiveness. Did players believe they could break it down? And, had they ever faced anything quite like this?
The final score answered both. Yes, they could break it down. And no, it didn’t matter.
Now, Minnesota heads further south where it hopes to dash other teams dreams and accomplish its final goal of the season — winning the national championship.
“Bring your shorts,” Gophers sophomore Quincy Lewis said. “I know it’s kind of warm down there this time of year. I hope (fans) come down and make it a party.”
The Gophers celebrated their first Sweet Sixteen appearance in seven years, but aren’t ready to break out the pi¤atas and salsa music in San Antonio. That, they hope, will come later.
“Our efforts won’t end until we win the national championship,” Gophers coach Clem Haskins said, who earned his 300th career win Sunday. “If we don’t get there, we’ll be somewhat disappointed. I’m that driven. I’m that focused.”
The Gophers picked apart Temple’s defense by making a season-high 10 three-pointers. Junior Sam Jacobson and sophomore Charles Thomas led the attack. Jacobson made four and Thomas hit three.
“We can play against anybody and anything they throw at us,” Haskins said. “We have quality players. We’ve seen all kinds of defense throughout the year. I’m so proud of my guys and the way they executed.”
Players were up for the challenge. They’ve now won their first two tournament games by a combined 51 points. Minnesota beat Southwest Texas State 78-46 on Friday.
Thats speaks as much about the Gophers’ offense as it does their defense. Minnesota wanted to point out that it can play defense too.
Temple shot 31 percent for the game and trailed at halftime 35-22, the Owls’ largest defecit of the season. Temple center Marc Jackson shot 3-for-13 from the floor. Owls guard Pepe Sanchez went 4-for-16 and guard Julian Dunkley shot 3-for-14.
The fresh bodies Minnesota kept bringing off the bench tired Temple’s offense.
“It was tough to overcome a team like Minnesota,” Owls coach John Chaney said. “We had to work more on our intelligence, and that wore us out. They have all the pieces and all the balance. I think they have a great chance to go all the way.”
Players are feeling good about their play to open the tournament. Jacobson said there is room for improvement, but he likes what he sees. Others agree.
“This is the time to play the best basketball,” Gophers forward Courtney James said. “There’s no tomorrow. Everybody has to step up their game. And so far everybody has done that. We’ve got four more (games) to go.”
Minnesota saw quality minutes off its bench led by Thomas, who scored a game-high 14 points, all of which came in 12 minutes on the court. Three other Gophers scored in double figures. Jacobson had 13, Eric Harris scored 12 and Bobby Jackson added 10.
The Gophers improved to 29-3 on the season.
“(Temple) gave us a great test,” Jacobson said. “This is a game we want to play to move on.”