Gophers return to old form Sunday

Minnesota showed signs of last year 9-22 team in its loss to the Badgers on Sunday.

Luke Middendorf

Since Tubby Smith arrived in Minnesota, the Gophers have played like a relatively new team compared to the one that finished with a 9-22 record in 2007.

But on Sunday afternoon against Wisconsin, Smith got a taste of what he missed out on last season.

Minnesota scored its lowest point total of the season in the 63-47 loss to the Badgers, playing lackluster offense and looking confused about their identity.

“Sometimes I watch very good offensive teams have those kind of nights,” Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan said about the Gophers’ performance.

After a solid road victory at Michigan on Thursday, the Gophers had their opportunity on Sunday to start an important stretch and prove their NCAA tournament mettle.

But instead of taking advantage of an energized crowd of 14,625 dying for victory against border-rival Wisconsin at Williams Arena, Minnesota came out of the gates flat, unenthused, and lacking the spark necessary to take down the No. 13-ranked team in the nation.

“We were playing at home with the crowd behind us, and they provided a lot of energy,” sophomore guard Lawrence Westbrook said after the game. “We just can’t keep starting off slow.”

If Smith would not have been standing in front of the Gophers’ bench, it would have been easy to think that the Badgers were competing against the ’06-’07 version of Minnesota.

After impressive performances by Minnesota’s seniors during the Michigan game Thursday, the three leaders were anything but “on” Sunday, combining for 20 points on 8-of-20 shooting.

“We have some veteran guys that needed to have good games,” Smith said of seniors Lawrence McKenzie, Dan Coleman and Spencer Tollackson.

All in all, the Gophers shot a measly 36 percent from the field against Wisconsin, including a rate of 32 percent in the second half.

“We couldn’t convert our shots right at the basket,” Smith said. “We couldn’t convert.”

But shooting the ball poorly was not Minnesota’s only notable characteristic last season and on Sunday, it was also going long stretches without making a field goal at all, displayed against Wisconsin during a 5-minute, 28-second drought in the beginning of the second half.

The Gophers also had not scored under 50 points all season up until their rough showing against the Badgers.

Minnesota did, however, put up point totals in the 40s six times last season, which explains why the missed shots inside and rim-clanking jumpers outside seen on Sunday were reminiscent of days prior to “Tubby Time.”

“We (the Gophers) were waiting for somebody else to do something,” Smith said of his team’s aggressiveness. “That’s an attitude, and something we need to get better at as we go on.”