Gophers plow through tough play, win 57-44

David La

Valparaiso coach Homer Drew joined Minnesota’s Dan Monson behind the press table for a warm and fuzzy moment following the Gophers’ (5-0) 57-44 win Saturday afternoon.
Drew stood with a hand on Monson’s shoulder and lauded him in a matter that belied the pugnacious game their teams just played.
During the Saturday matinee, the Crusaders (2-4) drew two technical fouls, one intentional foul and the wrath of 13,782 Minnesota fans.
Center Ivan Vujic — who incurred one of the technicals for taunting — drew more road rage than rush hour.
Much to the fans’ delight, the villained Vujic covered surging center Joel Przybilla, who scored a career-best 18 points on 7-of-9 shooting.
“They thought Vujic could handle Joel,” Gophers forward Dusty Rychart said. “But personally, I don’t think there are too many guys in the nation that can handle Joel one on one. I think they made a big mistake and Joel punished them.”
What might have blossomed into a quality matchup between the pivot men never got rolling — Vujic picked up two fouls in the first 66 seconds of the game, which hindered his aggressiveness.
Aware that the foul-plagued Vujic was now in over his shaggy-haired head, Przybilla went to work down low.
“My confidence is rising,” Przybilla said. “I give credit to my teammates for getting me the ball in the right situations to score.”
Though satisfied with his center’s scoring output, Monson took greater satisfaction in his team’s development.
“Joel is beginning to get more confidence, but also the other kids are beginning to learn where we want to get Joel the ball,” Monson said. “Joel’s production is a result of everybody getting a little more familiar of what we’re trying to do.”
Przybilla led the team in scoring, and was joined by Rychart (12), and guard Mitch Ohnstad (11) to give the Gophers three scorers in double figures. Forward John-Blair Bickerstaff pulled down a game-high 10 rebounds.
The game wasn’t pretty. Valparaiso shot 29 percent on the day and laid enough bricks to resurface The Barn’s facade. Guard Milo Stovall served as the head mason, shooting 0-for-10.
In turn (over), the Gophers tied a season-high with 20 giveaways and shot a Shaq-like 50 percent from the free-throw line.
Frigid shooting, turnovers, and a slow-time Valparaiso offense turned the game into the basketball equivalent of 3 yards and a cloud of dust.
The resulting low score gave Monson reason to joke, “We’re going to have some ugly games. We may be the only up-tempo team in America to be winning games in the 50s.”
The 57 points scored was Minnesota’s lowest output since an abysmal 43-point game at Purdue last February.
All jokes aside, Minnesota improves to 5-0 for the second straight season, and Przybilla put together his second straight double-digit scoring performance. Coincidence? Maybe.
“Everybody is judging Joel’s development by the points he’s scored,” Monson said. “But Joel’s strength is not scoring points. He has played very well in a lot of other games where he didn’t score as much.”

David La Vaque covers men’s basketball and welcomes comments at [email protected]