Gophers shut down Woolridge, Hawkeyes

by Tim Klobuchar

Late in Thursday’s loss to the Gophers, Andre Woolridge tried something a bit different. Woolridge, frustrated by a miserable shooting performance and his team’s 14-point deficit, tossed an alley-oop pass.
The Iowa player that pass was intended for turned away, and the Gophers came away with the ball.
Woolridge, the Hawkeyes’ heralded point guard, had been harassed into a dismal 1-for-11 shooting performance by that point in the game, so to the student section at Williams Arena, the botched pass looked like another errant shot.
The fans quickly serenaded Woolridge with the obligatory “airball” chant, which they yelled each time Woolridge touched the ball the rest of the game, and even added a “CBA” chant at one point for good measure. Woolridge caught hell like it was a common cold, and like Minnesota’s defense, it wouldn’t go away.
Woolridge was leading the Big Ten in scoring coming into the game with nearly 20 points per game and was the primary reason Iowa was playing for first place in the conference. On Thursday, he had just 12, many of them after the game had been decided, and hit just 3-of-14 shots from the field.
“They just disrupted our offense,” Woolridge said. “They kept me off balance as far as what I wanted to do.”
The rest of the Hawkeyes starting line-up is more anonymous than Dennis Rodman’s public relations rep, so Minnesota’s game plan wasn’t too hard to decipher.
“We wanted to stop him,” said Gophers guard Eric Harris, who guarded Woolridge for most of the game. “And we did a good job. We wanted to double him and take him out of the game.”
The Gophers didn’t take him completely out of the game, but they came close. Woolridge took advantage of Minnesota’s preoccupation with him and dished out eight assists. But everyone knew Iowa could get only so much out of the Phantom Foursome and the reserves. Woolridge had to score, and score big, for the Hawkeyes to win. Minnesota simply didn’t let him.
Harris and Bobby Jackson stayed close enough to Woolridge on the perimeter to prevent the 3-point shot, and had the quickness to stop any penetration. When Woolridge did break down Minnesota off the dribble, the Gophers’ big men often swatted his shot away.
“The defense was tremendous,” Gophers coach Clem Haskins said. “I felt we were able to contain someone who I think is one of the best guards in the country. You don’t stop a player like Andre Woolridge, but you want to contain him.”
The game was a typical Big Ten grunt-and-shove-fest underneath the basket, but Hawkeyes coach Tom Davis said the physical play extended too far on the floor.
“They never let him get in his rhythm,” Davis said of the Gophers’ defensive job on Woolridge. “He was being bumped. He literally had contact on him all game. It looked like the NFL at times.”
Woolridge said Minnesota’s defense was physical, but nothing out of the ordinary.
“Can you really blame the officiating?” he said. “Maybe if you’re at home watching the game on TV you can. But when you’re out there playing, you can’t blame the referees.”
Woolridge was under no illusions that he played a great game, but he showed that the pressure of having to carry a team might be getting to him. After a television reporter asked him how the Gophers were able to shut him down, Woolridge looked coldly at the reporter and asked a rhetorical question.
“Is that a shut-down?”
To the Gophers, the answer was as obvious as an airball chant.