Bickerstaff hits game-winner for Gophers against Georgia

by Mark Heller

Down by one, 11.1 seconds left, facing Georgia.
Gophers forward John-Blair Bickerstaff has done it before.
He beat the Bulldogs a year ago under the same situation, draining the game-winning shot with four seconds left.
“It just so happens it came down to it, it was a coincidence. I was talking to (Georgia’s Shon) Coleman about it right before the play. I asked him if he remembered. He said, ‘Yeah, it won’t happen again.”‘
It did.
The play called for Bickerstaff to cut across the lane. A play Bickerstaff said, “was run all day and we were open, we just never made that pass.”
This time Michael Bauer made the pass, and Bickerstaff twisted in the lane, went up, hung and flipped in the layup.
But there were still 11 seconds left, and Georgia immediately raced down the court, but their layup spun out. The ball went out of bounds.
The Gophers’ Shane Schilling was immediately fouled, marched right up to the free throw line, and drained both for a clinching three-point lead. Dusty Rychart intercepted the Bulldogs half-court pass.
An ugly-looking 77-74 win for Minnesota (2-0) at Williams Arena.
But one they’re lucky to have.
“We had a lot of wide open shots in the first half,” Bulldogs coach Jim Harrick said. “And to beat anyone you have to make those shots.”
Twice Minnesota was down seven, once with four minutes left in the game. But guard Kevin Burleson hit a huge three-pointer and Bauer hit two free throws to tie the game at 72.
D.A. Layne (game-high 27 points on 8-of-20 shooting) hit two free throws for the Bulldogs and Rychart hit one, setting up Bickerstaff.
Bauer led the Gophers with 21 points. Bickerstaff finished with 17.
“We have to create our identity and our identity is not going to be a team that out-athletes people or one guy carries us with 30 points,” Gophers coach Dan Monson said. “It’s got to be a team effort where ten guys contribute, execute, and five guys block out.”
Layne scored 22 of his points after halftime, but Burleson held him to a pair of free throws in the last nine minutes of the game.
Burleson finished with ten huge points off the bench at point guard for the hobbling Terrance Simmons.
“That was fun. I swear that’s college basketball,” Burleson said. “That’s why I’d practice all night in the gym, for playing in that last minute. I love doing that.”
Much like Bickerstaff loves playing against Georgia.
“I thought John-Blair Bickerstaff had a will tonight not to let us lose,” Monson said. “He brought a competitive spirit that this team has to latch onto and be a part of.”
On Friday, Simmons was that spirit. The senior point guard keyed a 20-6 run to start the second half on in an 81-61 win over UNC-Greensboro at Williams Arena.
Simmons scored six points in the first two minutes of the half, and three others were in double figures. Minnesota led 33-28 at halftime, and the defense held Greensboro to 33 points in the second half.
The Gophers head to Hawaii for a the Thanksgiving Classic.

Mark Heller is the associate sports editor and welcomes comments at [email protected]