With three games left, U looking for momentum

The Gophers continue on their end-of-the-season push tonight when they host Ohio State.

Adam Fink

Whether it’s a big gust of wind for a sailboat or being unable to stop moving on an icy Minnesota ground, momentum plays a large role in how far you go – and where you end up.

For Minnesota’s men’s basketball team, building some confidence and momentum heading into the Big Ten tournament is crucial if the Gophers want to have an extended stay in Indianapolis.

With three games left – beginning with tonight’s game against Ohio State at Williams Arena – the Gophers (10-15, 2-11 Big Ten) can finish with a .500 record if they win out in the conference schedule and advance to the Big Ten tournament title game.

Should it accomplish that feat, Minnesota would be eligible for a National Invitational Tournament postseason bid.

After playing well against Michigan, Michigan State and Indiana earlier this month, Minnesota took a step back against Purdue and was routed by 18 points at home last weekend.

But junior Brent Lawson prefers to look at the loss to the Boilermakers as an aberration to the team’s recent trend.

“We were starting to feel good about how we were playing,” Lawson said. “As far as confidence goes, it is just another loss. One more loss doesn’t make a difference in the big picture as long as we learn from it.”

Although the Gophers are last in the Big Ten, two of their final three games are against the Buckeyes and Penn State, in ninth and 10th place, respectively, in the Big Ten standings.

The Gophers also face fourth-place Iowa on Saturday. All three teams beat Minnesota in January.

“It would be nice to go in (to the Big Ten tournament) feeling confident, having maybe moved up a spot or two,” center Jeff Hagen said. “You can’t overlook any team in the Big Ten.”

Gophers coach Dan Monson is concerned about the direction the team took last Saturday.

Purdue had success against Minnesota closing the cutting lanes and essentially playing more physically. Ohio State (12-13, 4-8) plays a similar style.

After slowly progressing the last month, Minnesota regressed and even Monson isn’t sure how the Gophers will fare against the physical Buckeyes.

“It’s hard to tell until we play again,” Monson said. “I don’t know that in February we are going to become more physical ourselves. We’ve got to move the ball better and space better so they are not able to get bodies on us as easy as they are.”

While all three games are winnable, finishing with the higher score at the final buzzer isn’t the determining factor as to how the team is playing.

“If we run into a team that is playing just as well and happens to beat us in these next three teams, that is one thing,” Hagen said. “But if we are playing poorly and losing because of ourselves, then that will not be momentum.”

And the Gophers will be in the same place they started.

Notes

• Redshirt freshman Kerry Wooldridge missed practice Tuesday because of illness.

• Ohio State has won five of the past six meetings between the two schools.

• Tickets are still available for the Big Ten tournament on March 11-14 in Indianapolis. The 10-game, $225 ticket bundles can be purchased by calling (651) 989-5151.