Confidence soars as U awaits Michigan

Todd Zolecki

It represented only one tick in the win column, but the Gophers’ men’s basketball team’s emotional win Wednesday night at No. 15 Indiana represented something much bigger.
Minnesota is one large step closer to attaining its preseason goals.
“One was to get 20 wins and the other was to win the Big Ten title,” Gophers sophomore Quincy Lewis said. “Coach Haskins preaches that if you want to win the Big Ten, you’ve got to win in Bloomington (Ind.) and West Lafayette (Ind.).”
One down, one to go. The Gophers don’t travel to West Lafayette to face Purdue until Feb. 12, but Haskins feels his team will be in contention when that time comes.
“I try to be honest,” he said. “I don’t try to overrate or underrate my players and my team. I’ve said from day one that we’re going to contend for the Big Ten title. We have the ability to play with any team on any given night. We have a chance any time

we step on the court.”
While the two schools from Indiana have had their share of Big Ten championships — Purdue has won the last three — No. 11 Minnesota must face another title contender north of Hoosier territory.
The Gophers host No. 16 Michigan on Saturday afternoon at Williams Arena.
So shake off the goose bumps from Wednesday night because Haskins believes more heart stoppers could be on the way.
“The Big Ten is back this year, and I think we’re in store for a lot of great games like this,” he said.
The Wolverines, favored by just about every preseason magazine to win the conference title, enter Williams in a bit of a slump, but with the athletic ability and talent to easily knock Minnesota off its Big Ten perch.
“Everybody here is looking forward to it,” Lewis said. “Coach always talks about protecting the home court. We’re looking for a battle.”
The Wolverines started the season hotter than Minnesota. They won their first eight games and posted big victories over Duke and Arizona and earned a top five ranking.
Michigan, not Minnesota or Indiana, looked like the team to beat before the Big Ten season began. But as impressive as Michigan looked in the victories over the Blue Devils and Wildcats, it looked the opposite in losses at the Rainbow Classic against Memp

his and Pittsburgh, and in its Big Ten opener against Ohio State.
One problem Michigan has dealt with all season is its bench strength, or lack thereof. Before the season started, Wolverines guard Willie Mitchell transferred to Alabama-Birmingham and left coach Steve Fisher with only seven players with starting experien

ce.
But if Michigan looked thin before the season, its bench really turned into a waif once Albert White left for Missouri. Fisher suspended White before the season for violating a team rule. White never got back on track and decided to leave altogether.
The Wolverines have only two players coming off the bench, Maceo Baston and Brandon Hughes, who average more than one point per game.
Minnesota’s defensive pressure and press could tire the Wolverines, especially if they run into foul trouble. The Wolverines also played No. 25 Illinois last night beating them 88-74.
Gophers junior Sam Jacobson said his teammates would be back to work yesterday and looking forward to Michigan. Haskins will make sure of that.
“We feel good about this year,” Haskins said. “Wherever you want to rank us, we’re a top 20 team. We’re number one to number 20 depending on what night we play.”