Gophers’ collapse gives Michigan 12th straight win

Anthony Maggio

The defense softened like butter in a microwave, the offense disappeared like a scarf from David Copperfield’s hand and late turnovers proved costly as Minnesota’s men’s basketball team’s chance to cease Michigan’s 11-game win streak faded away in the final minutes of Wednesday night’s contest.

The Gophers lost their fourth road game in as many tries by a score of 75-63 in Ann Arbor, falling to 9-6 overall and 1-3 in Big Ten play.

“It was a game I thought we could win, and we didn’t get it done, Minnesota coach Dan Monson said. “We turned the ball over, didn’t hit our shots and didn’t hit free throws when we got to the line. We just didn’t do the things we need to win a game on the road.”

Minnesota had chances late, but missed its final four shots and turned the ball over twice in the closing minute to seal its fate.

The Gophers took the lead with 7:47 to play when Aaron Robinson gathered an offensive rebound and hit a three to make the score 59-57, but it would be Minnesota’s last advantage.

The Gophers zone defense continually lost track of Wolverines leading scorer LaVell Blanchard around the perimeter, allowing him to hit three clutch trifectas in Michigan’s 18-4 run to close out the game.

The Wolverines (12-6, 5-0) were held in check in the first half, with Blanchard and Daniel Horton scoring just four points apiece.

But Blanchard exploded in the second half, finishing the evening with a game-high 28 points.

“He did everything,” Gophers forward Michael Bauer said. “I don’t remember too many times that we got a hand up in his face to give him a hard look. When you have a guy who is feeling it like he was in the second half, you have to get your hand up and make it hard for him to get open looks at the basket.”

Offensively, Minnesota was unable to help itself from the floor or the free-throw line.

The Gophers did not connect on a field goal in the final 4:30 and shot a disappointing 6-of-16 from the charity stripe.

Meanwhile the Wolverines attacked the paint and went 29-of-34 from the free-throw line.

Three-point shooting was about the only thing that kept Minnesota close throughout. In the first half, the Gophers were a paltry 31.4-percent from the floor but hit six of 15 threes.

The Wolverines, who entered the evening leading the Big Ten in three-point field goal percentage in conference games at 42.2-percent, went 0-for-7 from three-point land. Michigan’s futility from outside allowed the Gophers to hang around, as the Wolverines led only 32-31 at halftime.

Minnesota was better in the second half, shooting 48 percent from the floor and 5-of-11 from downtown, but the final drought buried the Gophers.

“Their zone got us out of rhythm,” Monson said. “We stood around the perimeter and waited for things to happen. We are just not aggressive in there.

“They did a good job of changing up their defenses, but a large part was us not getting it done on offense.”

Forward Rick Rickert led the way for Minnesota with 15 points. Four Gophers finished in double figures, but the most glaring statistic came courtesy of the referees’ whistles.

Minnesota committed 27 fouls to Michigan’s 16, and three Gophers – Jeff Hagen, Jerry Holman and Kevin Burleson – fouled out.

With no true center for the final eight minutes, Minnesota’s defense suffered, and the Gophers again lost the rebounding battle, 44-32.

The Gophers return home for a matchup with Northwestern on Saturday. The Wildcats (8-7, 0-4) come to Minnesota on a full week’s rest, and are still searching for their first Big Ten win.

Anthony Maggio covers men’s basketball and welcomes comments at [email protected]