Illinois guard Kiwane Garris said he thought teams with a three-guard rotation and quick forwards, like Illinois, might cause the Gophers trouble in the tournament.
“I think a team like us, size-wise, has opportunities to take Courtney James off the dribble and really try to run the ball up the floor,” he said. “We have guys capable of going to the hole and taking the forwards off the dribble. Once they count on me, the other players step up real well and knock down some shots.”
But Garris did like the Gophers chances in the tournament. He said their size gives them second chances from offensive rebounds and putbacks.
Can’t miss situation
Gophers senior John Thomas’ two free throws with 4.7 seconds remaining to win Saturday’s game might not have been heard around the world, but they were heard around the Barn.
Thomas, from Minneapolis Roosevelt, has been tested from the line during games — he’s a 52 percent free throw shooter — but never like this.
“This is the first time I’ve been in a game where it came down to this,” he said.
Not many Big Ten teams have had luck in the NCAA tournament since Michigan made the Final Four in 1991 and 1992 with the Fab Five.
Last season’s conference champion, Purdue, barely escaped the first round and lost to Georgia in the second.
But Gophers point guard Harris says being the champions — co-champions, at least — will help Minnesota during March Madness.
“That will help a lot,” Harris said of their confidence knowing they are Big Ten champions. “Even (the media) knows that the Big Ten hasn’t done too well in the tournament. Being a No. 1-seed will be a help, too.”
Mr. Nice Guy
Following the team’s win, amidst thousands of waving pompoms, Gophers coach Clem Haskins saluted the Williams Arena faithful.
Thomas, one of Haskins’ seniors, was taken aback by the gesture.
“I’ve never seen him do anything like that,” Thomas said. “It’s a tribute to the fans.”
Old stomping grounds
Former Gophers point guard and current coach of the NBA’s Minnesota Timberwolves, Flip Saunders, was on hand for the game Saturday.
Saunders, was on the 1976-77 Gophers team which finished 24-3 — the most wins ever for a Gophers team until Minnesota won Saturday to become 24-2, equalling that mark.
“It’s fun to come back and watch,” he said. “There’s always great excitement at the Barn.”
Saunders said there are no similarities between the 1977 team and this year’s squad. “It’s totally different with different personalities,” he said. “This team thrives on people.”
Those Gophers had Kevin McHale and Mychal Thompson — two players who played on NBA championship teams, he said.
He said these Gophers will be tough once tournament time comes around because of their strong bench and good guard play.
Are they for real?
The Gophers aren’t getting lots of respect from fans across the country, according to a poll conducted by ESPN’s Internet homepage Sunday.
The page posed this question to sports fans: “How will the Minnesota Golden Gophers do in the NCAA tournament?”
The results are interesting.
ù 32.0% Elite Eight
ù 27.3% Sweet Sixteen
ù 19.6% Early exit
ù 15.5% Final Four
ù 5.4% National champions