Gophers host NIT second round

Anthony Maggio

In a perfect world for Minnesota’s men’s basketball team, the Gophers would currently be preparing for a trip to Albany, N.Y. and a sweet sixteen game in the NCAA tournament.

Instead, Minnesota (17-12) welcomes Hawaii to Williams Arena at 7 p.m. tonight for a second-round National Invitation Tournament matchup. It will be the first ever meeting between the two schools.

“It’s going to be a very difficult team for us to guard,” coach Dan Monson said. “Somebody’s going to have to get out on the perimeter and chase some guys around. They remind me of Indiana in that they really spread you out with good shooters.”

The Gophers defeated St. Louis 62-52 last Wednesday at the Savvis Center in their first round contest, earning Minnesota its second round home game with the Warriors.

Four Gophers scored in double figures against the Billikens. Rick Rickert and Maurice Hargrow led Minnesota with 15 points each.

Last Wednesday was the first NIT road win for the Gophers since 1981 when Minnesota defeated Connecticut in the second round.

The win snapped a five-game losing streak for the Gophers, who have won a first round NIT game the last three seasons.

Monson lost a second-round NIT game to Hawaii as Gonzaga’s head coach in 1998. Minnesota has lost in the second-round of the tournament the last two seasons – both games played at home.

“The last two years I don’t think we really wanted to be in the NIT and didn’t really cherish it enough,” forward Michael Bauer said. “This year we understand that this is all we have left.”

Hawaii (19-11) advanced to the second-round with an 85-68 win over Nevada-Las Vegas last Wednesday. The Warriors finished tied for sixth in the Western Athletic Conference this season. They lost 66-56 to Tulsa in the WAC tournament semifinals, Hawaii’s only loss in its last five games.

The guard-oriented Warriors are led by junior guard Carl English who averaged 19.6 points per game in the regular season. He scored 30 or more points in three games this year.

“They are pretty streaky,” Hargrow said. “They’ve got a lot of good shooters.”

Rather than pout about not playing in the NCAA tournament, Minnesota played with intensity against St. Louis to advance to the second round. Two more similar performances will give the Gophers another opportunity for a New York trip, but a destination of New York City for the tournament semifinals instead of Albany.

“Going to New York’s not too bad of a thing,” Bauer said. “The NIT is a good tournament that we’re going to try to do as well as we can in.”

Free tickets

Thanks to a men’s basketball booster, the first 1,000 University of Minnesota students to Williams Arena tonight will receive free admission to the Gophers second-round NIT game against Hawaii.

All other student tickets are $5. General admission seats are $20 apiece.

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