Gophers welcome UNC-Wilmington

by Jabari Ritchie

Even after seeing his team pull out a 17-point victory over Texas-Pan American last Saturday, Minnesota men’s basketball coach Dan Monson said the team is looking unprepared for Tuesday’s game with North Carolina-Wilmington at Williams Arena.

After blowing a late lead and missing an opportunity to knock off No. 23 Wake Forest two games ago and trailing Saturday’s game with fewer than four minutes remaining in the first half, the Gophers (4-1) feel they must improve against the Seahawks (2-3).

“I told our team if we don’t play better than this on Tuesday, we’re going to lose on Tuesday,” Monson said after Saturday’s 89-72 win against the Broncs. “I’m always very honest with our kids. They need to understand that Wilmington is that team that you haven’t heard of that is going to be in the NCAA tournament and knock somebody out. Everybody will be looking up what town they’re from.”

The Seahawks made the school’s first and only trip to the Big Dance in 2000, losing 64-47 to Cincinnati.

While UNC-Wilmington has been far from dominant this season – the Seahawks lost their past two games at Radford and Ohio State by a combined margin of 39 – Minnesota does not expect an easy game.

“You could tell guys were kind of loose (before Saturday’s game),” said Dusty Rychart. The senior forward was named co-Big Ten player of the week after averaging 20 points and 9.5 rebounds against Wake Forest and Texas-Pan American.

“They were smiling, joking a little bit. The things that you overlook before a game like this. You see guys loose, but you think you can come into the game and play hard. That’s not the case.”

On Nov. 11, UNC-Wilmington nearly upset Wake Forest on the road, losing 79-78.

The Demon Deacons are the only team who’s beaten the Gophers this season.

“I know we’ll put it together and play a good game because that’s what we have to do,” said forward Michael Bauer, Minnesota’s leading scorer. “Our team’s been playing hard and very well in practices. We just have to translate that to the playing surfaces. Once we do that, we’re going to be a very dominating team. Until then, we’re going to be learning.”

After Minnesota struggled with shot selection and made a season-low 41 percent of its field goal attempts at Wake Forest, the Gophers took 12 fewer shots and made 47 percent from the field against Texas-Pan American.

With its improved shooting, Minnesota hopes to grab more rebounds against the Seahawks.

After out-rebounding opponents by an average of 13 boards in their first two games, the Gophers have struggled on the glass. Minnesota has pulled down just two more rebounds than its opponents over the last three games.

In their past two contests, the Gophers have surrendered 35 offensive rebounds.

“We’re a good rebounding team, but we need to concentrate on it and keep going to the boards hard,” said Bauer, who has 21 rebounds. “Rebounding is more of a mentality and that’s kind of what we need, this mentality going into the next game. They’re a pretty good team and we can’t take them lightly.”