Gophers grow up quickly, beat Iowa

Tubby Smith said Thurs. after a loss to to Ill. that his team played like “boys.” The message did not fall on deaf ears.

Sophomore Rodney Williams shoots a layup Sunday against Iowa at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.

Sophomore Rodney Williams shoots a layup Sunday against Iowa at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.

by Josh Katzenstein

IOWA CITY, Iowa âÄì Oh, how quickly boys grow up.

Just days after Minnesota menâÄôs basketball coach Tubby Smith referred to some of his players as âÄúboysâÄù instead of âÄúmen,âÄù the Gophers played with maturity, limiting turnovers, taking smart shots and playing sound defense to beat Iowa, 62-45, at Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Sunday evening.

Minnesota entered the game as losers of its last four, the longest such streak of SmithâÄôs four-year tenure.

Among the group Smith called out after MinnesotaâÄôs Thursday loss to Illinois was Rodney Williams, and the sophomore forward answered the challenge.

Williams played one of the best all-around games of his career, finishing with 13 points, seven rebounds, five assists and just one turnover in 35 minutes. The Gophers (17-8, 6-7 Big Ten) are now 6-0 this season when Williams scores in double figures, but he hadnâÄôt eclipsed 7 points in any of the last five games.

âÄúMy coaches and my teammates have been on me to stay aggressive,âÄù Williams said. âÄúThey had faith in me the whole time, and all I needed was a little faith in myself.âÄù

Although Williams went quiet in the second half after scoring 11 first-half points, his spark helped the Gophers overcome some early struggles.

Minnesota had four turnovers in the first 10 minutes and trailed 14-6. From that point, the Gophers opened a 10-0 run âÄî including 6 points in a row from Williams âÄî that helped them take a lead they would never relinquish. All totaled, the Gophers finished the first half on a 24-6 run and had a 30-20 halftime lead.

Forward Trevor Mbakwe carried the Gophers in the second half, scoring 22 of his career-high 24 points after intermission. The junior hit jump shots, overpowered IowaâÄôs post players and went 10-for-11 from the free-throw line despite entering the game shooting just 58.6 percent on the season.

âÄúWeâÄôve kind of been digging ourselves holes this whole season,âÄù Mbakwe said. âÄúWe knew it was now or never.âÄù

In addition to the offensive efforts of Williams and Mbakwe, the Gophers played great team defense to hold Iowa (10-15, 3-10) to just 34 percent shooting while forcing 17 turnovers. The 45 points allowed was MinnesotaâÄôs best defensive effort of the season.

âÄúI thought our defense was superb today,âÄù Smith said.

Freshman point guard Maverick Ahanmisi played well in 11 minutes off the bench and took a lot of pressure off senior Blake Hoffarber, whose 6 points were his lowest in 13 games. Ahanmisi scored a career-high 7 points and took over as point guard even when he shared the court with Hoffarber.

With SundayâÄôs win, the Gophers certainly improve their outlook for the NCAA tournament, something Williams said he was aware took a hit during the last two weeks.

âÄúWe think about that because thatâÄôs our goal to get there,âÄù he said. âÄúWe knew this was a game that we definitely needed to win to keep our chances alive.âÄù


Thursday: Illinois 81, Gophers 72

Minnesota coughed up 16 turnovers and shot just 36.4 percent from the field while missing countless open shots in an 81-72 loss to Illinois at Williams Arena on Thursday night.

The slumping Illini, who had lost five of their last seven games, proved to be stronger both physically and mentally than the Gophers and hit 50 percent of their shots in the second half en route to the victory.

âÄúThey were just more hungry for the win than we were,âÄù said Ralph Sampson, who had 16 points and 11 rebounds. âÄúI think Illinois just wanted it more than we did.âÄù

After hearing his junior centerâÄôs thoughts on the game, Smith let his emotions fly.

âÄúYou look in your mirror, and you say, âÄòHey, what am I doing? How hard am I working? Am I putting in the extra time? Am I getting up extra shots? Am I in the weight room more?âÄôâÄù Smith said. âÄúThatâÄôs what it takes.âÄù

Minnesota squandered a great game by Mbakwe, who finished with 17 points and tied a career-high with 16 rebounds. He secured his 14th double-double of the season in the first half with 10 points and 10 boards.