Minnesota finishes regular season with game against Northwestern

The Gophers will look for their sixth Big Ten win against the Wildcats in Evanston, Ill.

by C.J. Spang

Minnesota’s men’s basketball team’s loss to Illinois was heartbreaking, but it had an even more severe effect on another part of Spencer Tollackson’s body.

“I felt sick to my stomach that we couldn’t come up with a win for (the team),” sophomore center Tollackson said. “I know everybody else felt like they could have done more for them.”

The Gophers (14-12, 5-10 Big Ten) will need to forget that loss if they hope to avoid those feelings again Saturday against Northwestern. Game time is set for 7 p.m. in Evanston, Ill.

The last time these two teams met, Northwestern (13-14, 5-10 Big Ten) beat Minnesota 57-49 at Williams Arena on Jan. 7 in the Gophers’ Big Ten conference-opener that started their descent to the bottom of the Big Ten.

The Wildcats’ 1-3-1 zone defense was the cause of Minnesota’s woes, holding the Gophers to a season-low in points.

However, Minnesota has regained its shooting touch in recent games, knocking down 50 percent of their shots over the past two games.

That solid shooting will be needed against Northwestern’s defense.

“They’re a team that will let you shoot jump shots,” senior forward J’son Stamper said. “(Our) confidence is definitely there and (we’ll) just plan on using that – we’re going to keep it rolling.”

The Gophers are catching the Wildcats at an opportune time, as Northwestern has lost four of its past five games.

“Getting a win before the Big Ten (Tournament) would do a lot for our confidence,” senior forward Zach Puchtel said. “Even though we’re playing great basketball, I feel like going into the tourney with a win, especially on the road, would be huge for us.”

While Minnesota’s chances at an at-large bid to the NCAA tourney are small, a win against the Wildcats would set them up well for the Big Ten Tournament Mar. 9 through Mar. 12, in which the Gophers could be anywhere from the eighth to the 10th seed.

Even with a return trip to the NCAA Tournament looking less and less likely, the team isn’t about to throw in the towel.

“There’s still life in the Gophers,” Stamper said. “People might have given up on us but we never gave up on ourselves.”