Men’s hoops team sticks together despite losses

Adam Fink

Minnesota’s men’s basketball critics are slowly carrying a louder voice. The boos – once unheard of at home games – can be faintly made out at Williams Arena. And the message boards are lighting up with complaints.

In the first four seasons following the 1999 men’s basketball academic scandal, the Gophers have lingered around the middle of the Big Ten standings.

This season, however, the team has taken a step back and sits alone in the cellar of the standings.

Minnesota hasn’t won on the road since March and hasn’t won a Big Ten game since Feb. 22 against Penn State.

With a winless Big Ten record and growing skepticism, the Gophers (8-11, 0-7 Big Ten) have found the best – and sometimes only – place to turn during this season is to themselves.

“You are almost forced to because everyone outside is ripping you in many ways and this is the only place where you can go where guys understand what you are going through,” guard Ben Johnson said. “It’s a group you can talk to and this is like our family.”

Unity has little skill involved. There is no dribbling, shooting or even defense. But it can lead to wins.

“We have addressed a lot of things,” guard Adam Boone said. “Everyone wants to win. There isn’t any doubt about that.”

Johnson said the Gophers have done a good job of addressing team-wide issues instead of finger pointing at individuals. He added that there is mutual respect among all players.

As the losses add up, it is easy for any team to have its players go their own ways on and off of the court.

But for the most part, that hasn’t been the case with Minnesota.

“We win together,” Johnson said, “and we lose together.”

There just hasn’t been much of the former yet.

Threes not falling

It’s been the same old story for Minnesota.

The opponent’s defense surrounds forward Kris Humphries. The perimeter players get open looks. The shot misses and the Gophers lose.

Against Northwestern, this was highlighted even more than usual.

Minnesota shot 29 percent in the second half against the Wildcats on Saturday. The Gophers’ three-point shooting was a 4-for-22.

“We really settled for jump shots,” coach Dan Monson said. “This team isn’t shooting great from the perimeter and yet it seems most comfortable when things are going good to end up out there.”

Monson said the Gophers took six jump shots on five possessions when the team was down 37-32. This contributed to the eventual double-digit loss.

For the season, Minnesota is shooting 43 percent from the field.

Kohl Center blues

Minnesota, which travels to Madison, Wis., on Wednesday for a match-up with Wisconsin, has never won at the Kohl Center.

The Gophers are 0-3 since the Kohl Center opened in 1998. Minnesota also lost at Wisconsin in 1999, but the game was later vacated from the record books.

Minnesota isn’t the only team struggling in Madison lately. The Badgers are undefeated at home since Bo Ryan took over as coach for the 2001-02 season.

“We don’t talk about any streaks,” Ryan said. “We just talk about the things we have control over.”

The closest Gophers game against the Badgers during that stretch was a nine-point loss in 2002.

Badgers’ Tucker out

Wisconsin suffered a blow Monday when sophomore Alando Tucker decided to red-shirt the remainder of the season.

Tucker broke his right foot Oct. 9 and missed five games. The 6-foot-5-inch forward reinjured his foot Dec. 27.

“I feel that it is the best decision for me,” Tucker said in a statement. “It’s not easy for me to have to sit out, but I am confident this is the best choice for me in the long run.”

Tucker was named to the Big Ten’s All-Freshman team last year after averaging 12 points and 5.9 rebounds.

Player of the week

Michigan State’s Paul Davis was named Big Ten player of the week Monday.

Davis was a key factor in the Spartans’ Jan 28 win over the Gophers. The sophomore hit all five of his free throws in overtime, including the game-winner.

“He is getting to the free throw line more,” Michigan State’s Tom Izzo said. “And he is taking it to the basket better. He played pretty well against Indiana.”