It’s tough to say when it started, but ever since the Gophers men’s basketball team began its 10-game winning streak more than a month ago, the team has slowly developed a confidence and swagger thathasn’t been present for some time.
Not that it shouldn’t. Minnesota has destroyed the weak teams and handled the tough ones. It did so Saturday at Williams Arena in a 70-64 victory over one of the tough ones — No. 16 Michigan.
With that win, the Gophers moved up three spots to No. 8 in Sunday’s USA Today/CNN poll. The Associated Press poll comes out today.
It’s obvious these players are enjoying every minute of it.
“We have fun,” Gophers center John Thomas said. “We try to get the crowd excited. We just try to get it going. Things have been going great for us and everybody is playing good, and we feel good about ourselves.”
The fun Thomas referred to came before Saturday’s opening tip-off. The Gophers gathered at center court and did a quick rendition of a mosh pit at a Metallica concert. Miles Tarver pushed Charles Thomas who slammed into Quincy Lewis. The chain continued until almost every player received a push in the chest.
After beating upon each other, they huddled together and formed a blur of maroon and gold. Almost at once, players bounced up and down in rhythm, getting themselves pumped up for 40 minutes of war.
Once the game began, all the rhythm vanished. The only beat present was the thundering steps of Michigan center Robert Traylor up and down the floor and the sound Minnesota point guard Eric Harris made when he hit the court as he ran into Traylor off a screen.
All the Gophers’ bumping and bouncing seemed to put them in the right frame of mind. They trailed for only a brief time in the first half and completed an impressive week following their overtime win on Wednesday over No. 15 Indiana.
“This past week has been very big for this program,” Harris said. “Now I think the team has a whole lot of confidence, and we feel we can play with anybody on our schedule from now on. It’s going to be tough on the road, but that win at Indiana gave us a lot of confidence to go in other people’s homes and play them tough.”
Minnesota is off to its best start under coach Clem Haskins and is one win away from tying the school’s best start at 16-1 during the 1976-77 season. The Gophers play at No. 25 Illinois on Tuesday night, but if Wolverines forward Maurice Taylor is right, the Gophers won’t reach the record.
“They’re ripe to be beaten,” he said. “Do you think they’re going to remain undefeated for the rest of the season? It’s the Big Ten. Anything can happen. I’m not going to say Minnesota is going to win the Big Ten because they’re 4-0. They’re not going to go undefeated. And I’m going to say that because they still have to play us (at Michigan).”
Taylor didn’t accept this loss lightly. After starting out the season 8-0 with wins over Duke and Arizona, the Wolverines have lost four of their last seven games. They were within four points of the Gophers with 1:53 left in the game, but couldn’t get any closer.
“I’m not going to sit here and say that they’re a better team because they’re not,” he said. “We have another game with them coming to Crisler (Arena), and if anyone wants to judge the better team, they can judge then.”
Thomas is aware he and his teammates are now marked as the team to beat around the Big Ten for the remainder of the season. Following the game, he repeated the importance of not getting too caught up in the hype.
“I’m satisfied with this week, but we can’t keep our heads up too high,” He said. “I know if I was on the other side I’d be up for a game (against us).”
Gophers senior Bobby Jackson was up for this one. The guard scored a game-high 20 points on 8-for-16 shooting from the field.
But not only did he come through with another big offensive performance, he also grabbed a game-high 11 rebounds, tying Thomas. Not bad for a 6-foot-1 shooting guard. Jackson also had 10 rebounds against Wisconsin to open the Big Ten season.
“If Bobby Jackson isn’t the Big Ten Player of the Week then they should just get rid of the player of the week award,” Haskins said.
Jackson and sophomore Charles Thomas (4-for-5) were the only consistent shooters for Minnesota. The Gophers shot 35.1 percent in the first half, but overcame it by doing the necessary things like haul down 16 offensive rebounds and turnover the ball on only nine occasions.
The win tasted sweet for Minnesota. Before he went to the locker room after the final horn sounded, Haskins raised his arms towards the fans. For the afternoon at least, Haskins seemed to be enjoying it as much as his players.
“They play well together,” Michigan coach Steve Fisher said. “Good teams play the way Minnesota played.”
GAME SUMMARY##16 Michigan 28 36 — 64
##11 Gophers 34 36 — 70
Michigan — M.Taylor 4-8, 3-4 11, Ward 3-13 0-1 6, Traylor 6-7 1-3 13, Bullock 4-8 5-5 16, Conlan 0-3 0-0 0, Hughes 6-12 2-5 15, Baston 0-7 3-4 3. Totals 23-58 14-22 64.
Gophers — James 1-4 0-2 2, Jacobson 6-18 1-2 15, J.Thomas 3-8 1-4 7, Jackson 8-16 3-4 20, Harris 3-8 1-2 7, Lewis 0-5 2-2 2, C.Thomas 4-5 1-2 11, Winter 1-1 2-2 4, Tarver 0-0 0-0 0, Archambault 1-2 0-0 2. Totals 27-67 11-20 70.
Three-Point goals — Michigan 4-13 (Bullock 3-6, Hughes 1-2, Ward 0-4), Minnesota 5-15 (C.Thomas 2-2, Jacobson 2-6, Jackson 1-2, Archambault 0-1, Harris 0-2, Lewis 0-2). Fouled out — Traylor. Rebounds — Michigan 43 (Taylor 10), Minnesota 43 (J.Thomas, Jackson 11). Assists — Michigan 8 (Taylor, Bullock, Conlan, Hughes 2), Minnesota 14 (Harris 5). Total fouls — Michigan 20, Minnesota 20. A — 14,453.