Road troubles follow Minnesota to Illinois

Mark Heller

Before his fall from grace at Minnesota, there were a few traits of Clem Haskins’ teams that were part of his on-court legacy.
Among the notables were tough defense, Hosea Crittenden and Haskins ripping off his suit coat.
There was also a downfall.
In Haskins’ 13-years of reign, he compiled an impressive 240-165 (.593) record, but he had a losing record away from Williams Arena. That includes a 17-4 road season from the Final Four year.
With Haskins gone and Dan Monson in, time has yet to change life away from The Barn.
A one-point win at Georgia just after Christmas was the Gophers’ lone win away from home.
Certainly, a young team like Minnesota can point to a lack of experience as a crutch. A Gophers team that is short on road experience, especially in the Big Ten, could be that reason.
“Maybe to an extent, but throughout life you have to deal with adversity,” said forward John-Blair Bickerstaff. “It’s a matter of dealing with things when you don’t have 13,000 rooting for you, just us 12 or 13 guys.”
It’s obviously easier to have success at home, and the Gophers have plenty of that (10-1 this year). Still, Monson believes the difference between teams like the Gophers and say, Duke, lies in other people’s backyards.
“There is no substitute in college athletics for confidence, and in order to get confidence you have to have success,” Monson said. “It’s so indicative that the great teams don’t panic. They stay together and plug away until they have success. We’re still looking for that identity.”
This season Minnesota is 1-6 on the road, and tonight’s eighth test at Illinois (11-7, 3-4 Big Ten) won’t be a breeze.
The Illini backcourt of Cory Bradford and Frank Williams combine for 27.6 ppg. Bradford had 22 points against the Gophers in the Big Ten tournament last year, including six of seven from downtown.
So a question was raised on how to stop Bradford.
“I made some calls to Tonya Harding’s camp, but haven’t gotten a response yet,” Monson said. “He’s very explosive, a great athlete and he’s very strong.
“I think the most underrated thing about him is his strength at that position. We’re not going to stop him, but you try and limit him.”
The Illini were predicted to finish among the top teams in the conference following last year’s championship loss at the Big Ten tournament.
This year, however, a wealth of individual players has only carried Lon Kruger’s squad to seventh place in the standings, a game ahead of the Gophers.
Of course, Illinois finished 3-13 in the Big Ten last season.
“We’re not as consistent as last season,” Kruger said, “but each team has a different personality. The key to our club is mental toughness.”
And that’s something Minnesota knows it needs outside of The Barn.

Mark Heller covers men’s basketball and welcomes comments at [email protected]