Men’s hoops clamps down defensively during streak

Brian Hall

Near the end of Minnesota’s 86-78 defeat of Iowa last Saturday, Hawkeye stars Reggie Evans and Luke Recker sat dejected on the Iowa bench, each with his head in his hands.

While the two seniors were expectedly frustrated with the loss, each played a major role in the outcome.

Recker almost single-handedly kept the Hawkeyes afloat at times while the Gophers defense baffled Evans inside.

It was the second straight matchup with an all-conference post player in which Minnesota (14-7, 7-3 Big Ten) held its own down low, but has been taken to the woodshed by perimeter players.

“You have to sacrifice something when you are trying to double on post players,” senior Dusty Rychart said. “You’re going to sacrifice an open shooter.

“I would rather have somebody shoot a three-pointer. Its not as high percentage shot as a two to five footer is.”

It’s a dangerous strategy, but one which has worked to this point.

Evans, who is averaging a double-double this season, was held to five points, all in the first half, and was limited to one field goal attempt in the second stanza.

Two of Evans five points came on a fast break dunk.

Meanwhile, Recker shot four for nine from the three-point arc and scored 11 points in three minutes before being taken out with just under 3:00 remaining in the game.

Such was the scene on Feb. 2 when Minnesota beat Indiana at Williams Arena.

The Gophers frustrated Hoosier star forward Jared Jeffries while hot-shooting guard Tom Coverdale went crazy from downtown.

Coverdale was 5-of-11 from three-point range and scored 19 points.

But, whether it was the hand of Jerry Holman in his face, or a double team by Travarus Bennett, Jeffries only managed seven points and fouled out with three minutes left in the game.

“We have been practicing real hard before the games and practice makes perfect,” Holman said. “Our goal is to shut down their best player, but at the same time we have to shut down the rest of the team also.”

Defensive adjustments must come quicker for Minnesota as the Gophers have struggled at times this season to compete for a full 40 minutes.

Over the past four games, each half has presented a different Gophers look, offensively and defensively.

In three of the past four games Minnesota has trailed at halftime but outscored its opponent by at least 10 points in the second stanza.

First the Gophers outscored Ohio State by 11, Indiana by 25, and finally Iowa by 17 points.

The three teams shot a combined average of 47.6 percent in the first half versus 32.6 percent in the second half.

“The defense has played better in the second half which leads to more opportunities,” Monson said. “That can jumpstart your offense a lot of times. People want to separate your defense from your offense and that’s really hard to do because they help each other.”

Now, with a surprising Northwestern squad on the horizon, Minnesota must avoid a letdown.

The Wildcats (13-9, 4-6) feature three players who average double figures in points and have shot at least 60 three-pointers this season.

“You can’t slip up in a game like this,” Monson said. “Because, as they have shown, they will come up and bite you. They are hard to guard and they frustrate you by taking a long time in possessions. Defensively they play very sound and make you have to make jump shots.”