Surprising Gophers look for more Big Ten victories

Twenty wins is a magic number in college basketball.
The number is usually used as a dividing line between an NCAA tournament team and a NIT team.
If the Gophers men’s team reaches 20 wins, it should place them in Big Dance — a place no one but themselves thought was possible before the season started.
While Minnesota isn’t on the list of Big Ten elite teams alongside Michigan State and Illinois, the Gophers proved over break they can run with just about any conference team on any given night.
After finishing the nonconference season an impressive 12-1, the Gophers have opened the Big Ten season 1-2 — a record which could have, if not should have, been better.
Most recently, Minnesota dropped a 75-72 decision to Ohio State in Columbus on Saturday.
After digging themselves a 17-point halftime deficit, the Gophers climbed back and actually had an opportunity to tie the game in the final seconds.
But a pair of three-point attempts from junior Dusty Rychart couldn’t find the bottom of the net.
“I was as disappointed as I have been all year in the first half,” coach Dan Monson said. “But I was as proud as I’ve been with them the way they played the last 10 minutes.”
The pride Monson said he felt must have been pretty high, considering the outcome of Minnesota’s game a week before they lost to the Buckeyes.
That’s when the Gophers opened the home Big Ten season with a 54-49 upset win over then-No. 12 Wisconsin.
The victory was Minnesota’s first over a ranked team since the Gophers beat ninth-ranked Indiana last February — Joel Przybilla’s final game at Minnesota.
A Jan. 3, 80-64 loss at ninth-ranked Illinois greeted Minnesota’s 2001 conference season.
Although the Gophers lost, they won a moral victory in when they only trailed by two points at the half, before falling to the much deeper and more experienced Illini.
Minnesota has been led lately by freshman Michael Bauer, who has scored in double figures 10 of the past 12 games.
Rychart continues to lead the team in scoring at 14.9 points per game, while guard Terrance Simmons is second at 12.7.
The Gophers next take on Purdue on Wednesday at Williams Arena. If Minnesota wants to reach the magic number of 20, home games like the one with the Boilermakers will have to go in the Gophers direction.
Anderle joins team
With hopes of adding more of an inside presence, Gophers football player Matt Anderle joined the basketball team on Jan. 5.
The 6-foot-6, 271-pound junior earned his third letter at defensive tackle for Glen Mason’s team. Now he hopes to do the same for Monson’s team.
Anderle, who was an all-conference hoops player at Mound View High School, has yet to appear for the Gophers.
Simmons plays
After injuring his left foot in the Wisconsin game and missing a couple days of practice last week, Simmons returned to the lineup against the Buckeyes.
The guard led the team with a season-high 27 points in the loss.
— The Associated Press contributed to this report

John R. Carter covers men’s basketball and welcomes comments at [email protected]