Minnesota takes a break from not-so-friendly Williams Arena

The Gophers will head to Madison after losing four of five games at home.

Befuddled with the way the Minnesota men’s basketball team has played at Williams Arena during its Big Ten slate, senior center Spencer Tollackson said, after the Gophers’ worst loss of the season Tuesday night, that he’d rather play on the road than at home.

His wish will be granted Saturday when Minnesota, who has lost four out of five games at the Barn, travel to Madison to take on No. 15 Wisconsin at the Kohl Center.

After going 7-0 at Williams during the nonconference season, Minnesota is just 2-4 at home for conference games, which includes a 63-47 loss to the Badgers (19-4 overall, 9-2 Big Ten) on Feb. 3.

Strangely enough, the Gophers (15-8, 5-6) – who won just one road game a year ago – have won three of their last four on the road, including back-to-back double-digit victories at Michigan and Northwestern.

“The way we have been performing lately, I’d almost rather play on the road right now,” Tollackson said. “Let’s go to the Kohl Center.”

Intriguing to watch

Whether winning or losing, Minnesota’s two freshmen – point guard Al Nolen and shooting guard Blake Hoffarber – continue to show signs of development.

In the Gophers’ lackluster performance Tuesday night, an 84-60 loss to Illinois, Nolen and Hoffarber’s playing stood out. Nolen scored eight points and added five assists while playing for a team-high of 30 minutes.

Although many of his baskets came when the game was out-of-reach, Hoffarber had a team-high 11 points.

In Saturday’s 63-50 win over Iowa, the freshmen duo was even more impressive.

Nolen put up a beastly line: 11 points, a career-high eight assists, four rebounds and three steals. Hoffarber finished with eight points, but hit a vital three-pointer to sink the Hawkeyes with 2:49 left in the game.

After getting off to more-than-solid starts in their first year for the Gophers, Nolen and Hoffarber’s production started to dip a few weeks ago. This happened right around the time outsider college basketball experts suggest the “freshman wall” kicks in, due to first year players not used to playing more games than they did in high school.

Nolen said he and Hoffarber have had talks about the “freshman wall” in recent weeks.

“I believe in the freshman wall a little bit,” Nolen said. “You come out with energy at first, but (the season) starts to wear on you a little bit.”

“Me and Blake talk about it – how rigorous the Big Ten is – how physical it is. We always talk after practice about how hurt we are,” he said. “We are supposed to be Energizer bunnies right now, but we always talk about how rough (the Big Ten schedule) is.”

Nolen admits he may have hit some sort of wall in late January, but still entered the week leading the Big Ten in steals with 2.3 per game, a feat not lost on coach Tubby Smith.

“His anticipation, his instincts around the ball, they’ve really made plays for us and won some close games,” Smith said.