U dunks Colorado State; UAB next

Tim Klobuchar

The Western Athletic Conference already has two divisions that represent an ocean and a mountain range, and includes teams stretching from Hawaii to Oklahoma.
Just maybe, if the Gophers men’s basketball team asks politely and emphasizes that most of Minneapolis is still west of the Mississippi River, it can sneak out of the Big Ten and become the 17th member of the WAC-pack.
That way, the Gophers wouldn’t have to worry about the litany of problems they had this year, such as height and depth, and wouldn’t have to hear adjectives like “scrappy” and “hard-working” to describe them. Instead, they could become accustomed to comments like this from Stew Morrill, coach of the WAC’s Colorado State, which was crunched 77-65 Wednesday night at Williams Arena in the first round of the NIT:
“I wasn’t surprised by how they played,” Morrill said. “We played a Big Ten team on their court. There’s a difference athletically in this league than in our league. I stress, athletically they took over.”
With the win, the Gophers moved on to the second round, in which they will play Alabama-Birmingham, a 93-86 winner over Missouri on Wednesday night.
The game will be played Monday or Tuesday. The site was undetermined at press time.
Morrill’s approbation stemmed mostly from a startling second half in which the Gophers (16-15) alternately bombarded the Rams with three-pointers and threw down fast-break dunks.
Minnesota has had shooting problems this year, which contributed to a 6-10 Big Ten record. But they were not evident Wednesday against a team that ranked in the top 10 in the country in both points allowed per game (61.6) and field goal percentage defense (38.5 percent). The Gophers followed up 50 percent shooting in the first half by hitting 52 percent in the second half.
The Gophers’ effort was reminiscent of their run through the Big Ten tournament last weekend, when they went 2-1, just good enough to qualify for the NIT.
Senior Sam Jacobson, however, had to look back a little farther to find a game so satisfying. He faltered in his Senior Day appearance Feb. 28, shooting just 3-for-16, and withered by the end of the Big Ten tournament, scoring just nine points in Minnesota’s loss to Michigan.
Wednesday night, however, Jacobson got the Barn game he was looking for, scoring 20 points, including 15 in the first half. He also threw down a down-the-lane, one-handed dunk that produced a smile — something seldom seen from Jacobson, even on a good shooting night.
“This was definitely a lot better than the last time I was here,” Jacobson said. “But it wasn’t just me, it was everybody. Everyone played hard and had fun. This was one of the funnest games of the year, and we were winning while we were doing it, which made it all the better.”
A few weeks ago, it didn’t look like there would be any postseason for the Gophers beyond an early-round disappearance in the Big Ten.
Against the Rams, they were actually able to claim dominance by the early stages of the second half.
Two three-pointers by senior Eric Harris, who continued his torrid shooting with 19 points on 7-for-9 shooting, in the last 1:30 of the first half helped give Minnesota a 39-35 halftime lead. A 9-0 run to start the second half all but put the game away.
“Those two shots might have been the turning point in the game,” Gophers coach Clem Haskins said.
While Harris was blistering Colorado State for three second-half three-pointers, the Gophers were clamping down on the only Ram who gave them trouble in the first half, 7-foot center Ryan Chilton. The senior scored 18 points on 7-for-9 shooting in the first half, mostly against freshman Kyle Sanden, but squeezed off just one shot the entire second half.
Asked what the secret for the shut-down was, Haskins said: “We started Miles Tarver on him. He was very active in the post and did a good job keeping the ball away from him.”
Tarver even got into the act offensively — in a way. After he was fouled by Chilton, Colorado State’s Matt Barnett picked up a technical foul. Tarver, a career 59 percent shooter from the free throw line, hit both ends of his one-and-one, and Haskins left him on the line for both technical free throws — both of which he bricked. Haskins had that luxury because his team was leading 70-49 at the time.
If the Gophers keep playing like they are, their stated mission of getting Bronx native Eric Harris to play in front of family and friends at Madison Square Garden at the NIT Final Four doesn’t look so unreachable. Minnesota would have to win two more games to do that. They didn’t do it in the Preseason NIT, so Harris has had a while to contemplate the scenario.
“The first thing I’d do is go back to home to where I grew up and where my family and friends are,” Harris said. “I know that my mom would cook up a big meal for everyone. But we’re still far away from that.”
WEDNESDAY’S SUMMARY
Colorado State 35 30 — 65
Gophers 39 38 — 77

COLORADO ST. (20-9)
Christiansen 4-10 0-0 9, Barnett 1-2 2-2 4, Chilton 7-10 8-8 22, Palacio 1-3 6-8 9, Mahmud 2-7 2-2 7, Ford 0-0 1-4 1, Johnson 1-1 0-0 2, Smith 2-6 2-2 6, McKanstry 2-5 0-0 5, O’Neill 0-0 0-0 0, Patik 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 20-45 21-26 65.
GOPHERS (16-15)
Jacobson 7-14 3-4 20, Lewis 6-14 3-4 15, Sanden 2-5 0-0 4, Clark 2-7 2-2 6, Harris 7-9 0-0 19, Nathaniel 1-2 3-4 5, Schoenrock 0-0 0-0 0, Jason Stanford 1-1 0-0 2, Jermaine Stanford 0-0 0-0 0, Broxsie 0-0 0-0 0, Tarver 2-3 2-6 6. Totals 28-55 13-20 77.
3-Point goals — Colorado St. 4-18 (Christiansen 1-6, Palacio 1-2, Mahmud 1-4, Smith 0-2, McKanstry 1-3, Patik 0-1), Minnesota 8-21 (Jacobson 3-7, Lewis 0-4, Clark 0-3, Harris 5-7). Fouled out — None. Rebounds — Colorado St. 24 (Barnett 7), Minnesota 36 (Jacobson, Clark, Harris 6). Assists — Colorado St. 12 (Barnett 5), Minnesota 16 (Harris 6). Total fouls — Colorado St. 16, Minnesota 21. Technical — Barnett. A-8,058.