Men’s hoops defense under scrutiny for lapses last week

by Brian Hall

During the final seconds of Minnesota’s men’s basketball team loss at Michigan, the score was tied at 67 when Gophers senior Travarus Bennett jumped in front of a Wolverine pass to center Chris Young and knocked the ball out of bounds.

Michigan retained possession but was left with only five seconds remaining on the shot clock.

The Wolverines then inbounded the ball and a driving Chuck Bailey found Young open once again for a one-handed slam.

The dunk was part of a late Michigan comeback in which the Wolverines erased a 10-point Minnesota lead with six minutes remaining in the game to win 71-69.

While the play only gave the Wolverines a brief two-point lead, it underscored a trend the Minnesota coaching staff has pointed out during many of their games this season – defensive lapses.

“The team is not staying focused,” Gophers assistant coach Mike Petersen said. “(Against Michigan) from a game preparation and execution standpoint we were good for 36 minutes.”

In Ann Arbor last Saturday, Michigan scored on its last 10 possessions, hit its last eight shots, and scored 24 points in the last 5:50. The Wolverines did most of their damage in the middle, hitting 10 of 14 shots in the paint during the second half.

“We have to learn how to finish,” junior Jerry Holman said. “It’s a lack of focus at the end of games. We’ve had games that we think we have won before the game is even over. I don’t know how you do it, but we have to practice learning how to win.”

Young’s dunk last Saturday exposed one aspect of Minnesota’s (10-7, 3-3 Big Ten) defensive letdowns according to Bennett – teamwork.

On the play, Minnesota forward Dusty Rychart shifted to help defensively on the driving Bailey, leaving Young open underneath the basket.

While Rychart’s effort cannot be questioned, his teammates didn’t shift to cover the open man.

“Somebody should have been there to help him,” Bennett said. “We need to trust in the team. No one person can stop a player completely the whole night.

“You have to feel confident that when you are going to get beat to the basket your teammates are going to step up and help you. When one person helps out you have to help the helper.”

Bennett is the stopper for the Gophers, always drawing the toughest defensive assignment. Next weekend the 6-foot-7 swingman will most likely draw the reigning conference player of the week in Ohio State’s Brian Brown.

Last week Brown averaged 20.5 points per game while shooting 58 percent from the field.

The Big Ten leading Buckeyes (14-2, 5-0) come to town Saturday third in the conference in scoring offense, averaging 71.0 points per Big Ten game.

Meanwhile, Minnesota is third from the bottom in scoring defense, giving up 73.3 points per conference game.

The Gophers are not interested in what transpired in the past, just in correcting their mistakes and capitalizing in the future.

“It’s desire and attitude,” Holman said. “If we are up by 10 we can’t let up. We have to play with the attitude that we are down by 10. Just keep playing and get the stops we need.”

Added Bennett: “I don’t know if guys are looking at the scoreboard or what. But once we start to realize and start to focus throughout the entire game we will be a real good team.”

For an NCAA hopeful team the focus must begin now.

Esselink sidelined

Sophomore Steve Esselink sat out Wednesday’s practice with a hamstring injury.

Esselink rode the stationary bike during practice but is not expected to miss any game time.