Minnesota wins in decisive fashion

Juniors Devron Bostick (right) and Paul Carter both go up for the ball during Sunday’s 72-45 win over Northwestern.

Jules Ameel

Juniors Devron Bostick (right) and Paul Carter both go up for the ball during Sunday’s 72-45 win over Northwestern.

For the first time in almost three weeks, the Gophers played like a team that belongs in the NCAA tournament. After a 1-4 stretch that knocked them from near-tournament locks to the wrong side of the bubble, they dominated Northwestern on Sunday night at Williams Arena, 72-45. The 27-point margin was the largest of the season for the Gophers, and was its 20th win over all win, making them coach Tubby Smith’s 16th consecutive team to win 20 games. They blew out the same Northwestern team that started their tailspin Jan. 18, when the 16-1 Gophers blew a halftime lead in a nine-point upset in Evanston, Ill. But as it has gone most of the season, the Gophers were a different team at home, shooting more than 50 percent from the field and returning to the strong defense that got them as high as No. 19 in the nation a few weeks ago. They held Northwestern’s two leading-scorers, Kevin Coble and Craig Moore, to just five and three points, respectively. Coble was sick and hadn’t practiced since their win over Ohio State on Wednesday, but junior guard Lawrence Westbrook completely shut down Moore. “They really did a job on Craig,” Northwestern head coach Bill Carmody said. “They just played everybody pretty hard and we didn’t handle it well.” Westbrook led all scorers with 17 points, including four three-pointers. The team’s leading scorer went through a rough four-game slump that coincided with three Gophers losses, but he scored 12 against Michigan on Thursday and was even better against Northwestern. “I just stopped thinking so much,” Westbrook said. “I was listening to coach, but I wasn’t letting anything affect me. I just played like I had earplugs in.” A Westbrook three-pointer halfway through the first half started a 16-3 run that put the game out of reach. They led by at least 20 for nearly the entire half. The bench had a huge game, too, with 11-of-13 players scoring and 10 grabbing rebounds. “That’s paramount, because we really don’t have a guy who we can go to [for scoring],” Smith said. “Westbrook is the closest thing we have to a guy like that, but we have to do it by committee. That second group of Busch and Colton [Iverson] in there adds another dimension.” The Gophers now travel to Illinois before two huge home games, against Wisconsin and Michigan, to finish the season and decide whether or not they will play on the first day of the Big Ten tournament, and also if they’re in contention for an NCAA tournament bid. “There is a sense of urgency now,” Smith said. “This is a group that needs that. I don’t really understand that, but this is a team that needs someone to lead them, because we’re not getting it from within the team.”