Minnesota not quitting as losses mount

Zach Eisendrath

Playing in front of its home fans for the final time this season, the Minnesota men’s basketball team will try and put to bed its season-long six-game losing streak.

The Gophers play their final game at Williams Arena on Saturday afternoon when they host a Michigan team fighting for its NCAA tournament life.

While the Wolverines have plenty to play for in terms of the postseason, Minnesota is left playing for pride in its final three regular-season games.

Interim coach Jim Molinari, who, along with his coaching staff, might be making his final appearance on the Gophers home court, wants fans and critics alike to know full well his team has not given up despite the obstacles.

“There are a lot of things that could be done better, but I’ll be the first one, in a strong way, to dispute anyone who thinks our team has quit,” Molinari said. “I don’t think we’ve ever quit.”

Molinari has said for weeks that this group of Minnesota players will be rewarded in the long run for their efforts this season, but the Gophers would like to be rewarded this season too, with a win as quickly as possible.

And for good reason, Minnesota believes it can end its woes against Michigan.

When the two teams played in Ann Arbor back on Feb. 10, the Gophers lost 82-80, but were in control for much of the game.

Minnesota (9-19, overall 3-11, Big Ten) had a nine-point halftime lead on that night, until its defense went missing in the second half. In the final 20 minutes of play, Michigan shot 73.7 percent from the floor.

The Wolverines’ Brent Petway and Dion Harris each had career nights, scoring 18 and 27 points, respectively.

“Obviously for us, we had a very hard time stopping (Michigan) last time we played,” Molinari said. “I think we need to be more ready for them defensively.”

Gophers sophomore guard Brandon Smith, one of a few players who matched the Wolverines’ athleticism last time around, said if Minnesota is as assertive as Michigan (18-10, 6-7), the Gophers can pull out their first victory in February.

“We’ve got to try and match their intensity,” he said. “I think that’s one of our main (goals) going into the game.

“I think we have a lot of confidence. We know they are a great team, but we feel we have the home-court advantage Ö and we’re going to match their aggressiveness.”

To match the Wolverines’ effort, Molinari said he will play the players who have been most accountable for their actions.

After juggling various lineups since taking over the team, Molinari said he hopes to stick with the same starting five for Minnesota’s final games and into the Big Ten tournament.

Two players solidified their spots in the starting five during Wednesday’s 71-59 loss to Indiana.

Freshman guard Lawrence Westbrook will make his second consecutive collegiate start thanks to aggressive play against the Hoosiers, and redshirt freshman forward Damian Johnson earned a spot because of his play on the defensive end of the floor.

But Molinari said he was proud of how his entire team fought Indiana in the hostile environment of Assembly Hall. And he continues to maintain his team is getting better despite its record.

Still, he said he’d like to repay the loyal fans that have stuck with the team through tough times with a win on Saturday.

“I think our fans should have hope. I think there is a lot of growth on the inside, I think obviously there is more work to be done,” Molinari said.

“Obviously you want to leave the fans rewarded with some victories. There is no question about that.”

Wilson to transfer

Junior point guard Limar Wilson has decided to transfer from the program, the Gophers announced Thursday.

Wilson, in his first year with the team after transferring from Northeast Community College in Norfolk, Neb., averaged 4.1 points in 26 games this season.

The Orlando, Fla., native started 15 games for the Gophers, but was benched after only 11 minutes against Ohio State on Sunday.

Wilson missed practice during the week and didn’t travel with the team to Indiana on Wednesday.

“Since Limar has made the decision to transfer after the school year, I feel it is in everyone’s best interests to sever ties at this time so he can pursue future opportunities,” Molinari said. “We appreciate his efforts during his time here.”