David Malerich has been playing the crash cymbols in the Gophers pep band at women’s basketball home games for the last two years.
One would think he could remember the last time the Gophers won a Big Ten game at the Sports Pavilion.
“I think it’s been like 27 or 28 games …,” he pondered.
No, actually, before Sunday’s 75-71 overtime win over Michigan State, Minnesota lost 24 consecutive conference games at home.
“Oh.” pause. “That’s sad,” Malerich uttered.
But sad was a word that finally could be ignored by the Minnesota faithful when the streak came to an end thanks to an emotional effort by the Gophers. And not a moment too soon — it was the last chance of the season for Minnesota to put its skid to rest.
It’s hard to blame Malerich for not knowing exactly when that last win occurred. After all, he wasn’t even around for it.
Neither was any player or coach on Minnesota’s current roster. When did the streak start?
“It had to be in 1998,” he said convincingly.
Wrong again, Dave. Minnesota’s last conference home win prior to Sunday was a 66-64 nail-biter against Ohio State on Feb. 2, 1997. Along with its usual meteorological foresight, the groundhog arose that winter morning and saw three more years of conference home losses for the Gophers.
The closest Minnesota has come since was a 63-61 heartbreaker to No. 2 Purdue last season. The Boilermakers went on to win the national championship.
But the current team is focused on more important matters, such as its upcoming matchup with border rival Wisconsin in the first round of the Big Ten tournament.
“(The streak) is something that the media talks about,” coach Cheryl Littlejohn said. “I’m working on building next year’s team, this win doesn’t change that.”
Probably not, but it likely will get her eight signees — who may have seen Sunday’s win live on Midwest Sports Channel — a lot more excited about where the Minnesota program is headed.
Players stressed after the game that their 24-game losing streak wasn’t weighing heavily on their minds.
“We just wanted to go out and win at home,” Cassie VanderHeyden said.
“We didn’t even know about (the streak) until about a week ago,” senior Erin Olson added.
VanderHeyden and Olson certainly did their part, scoring a combined 33 points in Sunday’s win. Then the two played “keep away from the Spartans” in Minnesota’s backcourt as the game’s final 6.5 seconds elapsed.
A start of a new streak? Malerich was crashing those symbols harder than ever to celebrate the win.