Bye arrives not a moment too soon as Gophers ready for Big Ten Tournament

The Gophers got their first full weekend off since the holiday break.

Bob Wothe

A two-day weekend simply isn’t long enough for most people.

But if you heard Minnesota’s men’s basketball team talk about it, it seemed to view it more as a two-week tropical getaway.

“You’d be surprised at how much a couple of days can do,” senior Brent Lawson said. “It’s not only for your body, but mentally it helps a lot, too.”

Minnesota (20-9, 10-6 Big Ten) had its first bye in the Big Ten season on the first night of conference play and its second Saturday, on the last full weekend of conference play.

Last weekend was the first time since Christmas the Gophers had both Saturday and Sunday off.

Playing 16 games in a row each Wednesday and Saturday took its toll on the Gophers, allowing little injuries to pile up and affect the overall team play.

But now, more than halfway through their eight days between games and after the full weekend off, players say they feel refreshed.

“It feels great,” said senior Jeff Hagen, whose 7-foot frame probably needed the rest more than anyone. “Aches and pains wear you down, but it’s amazing how much two days can do.”

Hagen has suffered through plantar fasciitis in both feet, creaky knees (he still wears a brace on his left knee, though he calls it precautionary) and a concussion throughout the season.

But as much as Hagen’s and the rest of the team’s legs needed a couple days off, both he and Lawson said the mental rest might be more important.

“Now, everyone’s excited to get back on the floor and get back to work,” Hagen said. “We got our batteries recharged now, and we’re ready to go.”

And that’s just what coach Dan Monson wants to hear.

“We really need to improve over these days off,” Monson said. “That’s a significant amount of time, and we need to improve not just physically but mentally too.”

Minnesota’s opponent Friday, Indiana (15-12, 10-6), was involved in a battle with Wisconsin it lost by two March 1, and Indiana traveled to Northwestern on Saturday.

So it’s hard to imagine the Gophers not being a little bitfresher than Indiana.

And because Minnesota is a team that has prided itself on defensive energy all year long, it might be the difference in a season series currently tied at one apiece.

Davis makes his case

Indiana coach Mike Davis said he doesn’t understand the Ratings Percentage Index that is so crucial in the selection process for the NCAA Tournament.

But he also said he doesn’t understand how his Hoosiers could not be in.

“Ten wins in conference play speaks for itself,” Davis said on the Big Ten’s weekly teleconference Monday morning.

Davis might have given some bulletin board material to the Gophers, though, with his discussion of which teams should be in from the Big Ten.

“We finished fourth in our league,” Davis said. “If you’re going to take four teams (from the Big Ten) you’ve got to take the top four, right?”

Measuring his words, Davis did not directly implicate fifth-place Minnesota, but he continued.

“You wouldn’t take the sixth-place team over the fourth-place team in the conference,” Davis said.

For his part, Monson skirted the issue.

“I don’t want to pick between Indiana and Minnesota,” Monson said. “I don’t know who should be in, because that’s not my job; I know that we can control only that game and go in and play well and win.”