Midway through Saturday’s 67-62 loss to Wisconsin’s men’s basketball team, Minnesota was on fire.
During their 19-5 run to end the first half and a 9-2 spurt to start the second, the Gophers put points on the scoreboard with ease while drawing six fouls and forcing five Badger turnovers.
As Minnesota produced on offense while giving up no field goals in over nine minutes, it seemed the Gophers were back on track. But after blowing a double-digit lead with an offensive drought lasting most of the second half, Minnesota is looking for answers approaching a must-win game at Michigan State on Thursday.
“I don’t know if it’s fatigue or if we’re settling too much for outside shots or what,” said Gophers forward Rick Rickert, whose team went 5:31 without a point midway through the second half. “We have to learn to penetrate more and pound the ball inside to get ourselves going.”
Despite dominating inside the lane, with 38 points in the paint and its forwards scoring 19 of the Gophers’ 26 field goals, Minnesota launched nine three-pointers in the second half.
The Gophers shot 4 of 18 from three-point range in the game. In its two-point loss at Northwestern, Minnesota made just 6 of 19 three-point attempts.
“What happened at that point was guys just tried going on their own,” said forward Michael Bauer. “It wasn’t trying to find shots within our team structure.”
Rickert, who had a .447 three-point percentage before Saturday’s game, shot just one of six from behind the arc and just 5 of 15 overall.
“We started going away from our game, which is the inside game, and started shooting some three-pointers early in the shot clock,” forward Dusty Rychart said about the loss to Wisconsin. “In games like this we have to go with what makes us win games.”
Minnesota, which scored at least 80 points per contest during a four-game winning streak from Jan. 26 through Feb. 9 and averages 76 points a game, was held to 56 and 62 points in its consecutive losses to Northwestern and Wisconsin.
During the four-game winning streak that included double-digit victories over conference-leading Ohio State and Indiana, the Gophers shot over 58 percent from the field. In its last two losses, Minnesota has posted a .436 field goal percentage.
After blowing an opportunity to move into a first-place tie in the Big Ten with last week’s loss to the Wildcats, the Gophers are now tied for fourth with Illinois. To keep its NCAA tournament hopes alive, Minnesota must improve before playing its final four games.
“I don’t think it’s a big problem,” said Kevin Burleson, who shot 1 of 8 from three-point range last week. “A lot of people think that this is the end of the world, but I’m really confident. We have a great team and little mental mistakes are pretty easy to fix.”