Midseason funk adds pressure to home game

Four straight losses have Minnesota in a familiar spot.

Minnesota forward Trevor Mbakwe looks for a pass against Michigan on Thursday, Jan. 17, 2013, at Williams Arena.

Image by Bridget Bennett

Minnesota forward Trevor Mbakwe looks for a pass against Michigan on Thursday, Jan. 17, 2013, at Williams Arena.

by Andrew Krammer

Austin Hollins knows Minnesota needs to stop the bleeding.

Hollins called Tuesday’s home game against Nebraska a “must-win” after four straight losses.

Down 11 spots in the most recent Associated Press poll, the No. 23 Gophers will look to get out of the “funk” head coach Tubby Smith said some of his starters are in.

Rodney Williams, Joe Coleman and Hollins combined to shoot 2-for-22 in Saturday’s loss to Wisconsin.

Williams and Hollins have particularly struggled offensively, combining to shoot 6-for-32 from the field in the previous two losses to Northwestern and Wisconsin.

Smith and his players haven’t blamed injuries or said they were physically bested but instead have pointed to repeated mental errors.

“Austin’s a hard worker, he’ll be fine,” Smith said of the co-captain’s slump. “It’s all mental, I think, with Rodney. I think physically he’s fine.”

Trevor Mbakwe, in his fourth season at Minnesota, said he recognizes a pattern and doesn’t want this season to go down the same path as 2010-11, when the Gophers lost 10 of their final 11 games to close out the Big Ten season.

“Most of these guys were here during that stretch,” Mbakwe said. “None of us want to relive that. We have a better team.”

The Gophers were ranked No. 16 in early 2011 before winning two conference games the rest of the way.

“There’s some similarities with the way [games] were lost — especially against Wisconsin,” Mbakwe said. “But the last couple of games have definitely been mental mistakes.”

Mbakwe reinjured his right wrist in the loss to Wisconsin and said he’ll have it wrapped up for Tuesday’s game.

“Obviously you want to be 100 percent, but when you have a nagging injury like that, it’s mental,” Mbakwe said. “You have to play through it.”

Smith was quick to say there’s a “panic” in his team right now, but then he softened his statement.

“I don’t know if panic is the right word, but there’s a sense of urgency that we have to get better,” Smith said.

Hollins said the team’s improvement starts with returning to a fast break-style offense after losing to Wisconsin and Northwestern, which forced the Gophers into a slow, half-court style of basketball.

Mbakwe leads the Big Ten in rebounding with 8.7 per game and said this team is still one of the best in the country.

“We just need to come out and play like it for 40 minutes,” he said.

Smith relayed Mbakwe’s words, adding there’s still plenty of basketball to be played.

“We haven’t peaked yet,” Smith said.