Gophers get much needed win against Northwestern; advance to face Spartans

Minnesota Vs. Wisconsin

Matt Mead

Minnesota Vs. Wisconsin

With a little more than five minutes left in Thursday afternoonâÄòs game, Ralph Sampson III made perhaps the biggest basket of the GophersâÄô season. Taking a pass from Damian Johnson, the true freshman center made a slick pivot move under the basket, putting the ball in off the glass while being fouled. The GophersâÄô bench erupted and SampsonâÄôs father âÄî Ralph Jr., a three-time National Player of the Year in the âÄò80s âÄî stood up and pumped his fist. The three-point-play was the stopping point in a second half that had turned sour for the Gophers, and helped them to a 66-53 win over Northwestern in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament in Indianapolis. SampsonâÄôs play gave Minnesota a one-point lead and stopped a 10-0 run for the Wildcats, who didnâÄôt score again until the final minute, when the game was effectively over. âÄúI knew the game was close and we wanted to score and put them away,âÄù Sampson said. âÄúIt brought a lot of energy to the team.âÄù It also helped the Gophers avoid a devastating loss that wouldâÄôve likely excluded them from the NCAA tournament. Now, most experts say, they are in position for an at-large bid regardless of how the rest of the conference tournament goes. Lawrence Westbrook again woke up from a first-half funk to score a team-high 14 points, all i n the second half, reminiscent of his March 4 game against Wisconsin, when he scored all 15 of his points in the final 9 minutes. Junior college transfer Devron Bostick, who had gone more than three weeks without a basket, scored 11 points and had three offensive rebounds. Sampson finished with nine points (all but two of them coming in the second half), six rebounds and five blocks. The Gophers led by as many as 14 in the first half, but only led by six at half after Kevin CobleâÄôs buzzer-beating three-pointer. Coble had 19 first-half points, but the Gophers held him to just a pair of free throws after that. They held NorthwesternâÄôs other leading scorer, Craig Moore, to just eight points. âÄúTheyâÄôre both really good players,âÄù Westbrook said. âÄúWe just wanted to make them dribble. Damian [Johnson] is a really good defender and he changes shots.âÄù Waiting in the quarterfinals is top-seeded Michigan State, which beat the Gophers by 29 points just over a month ago. But even with a loss in the game, which is Friday at 11 a.m. Central and on ESPN , the Gophers now have 22 wins and bracketology websites like ESPN.com and Bracketology 101 both predict they will in the field. Gophers coach Tubby Smith doesnâÄòt pay a lot of attention to the pseudo-science. But, he said after ThursdayâÄòs win, âÄúI hope all those experts are right.âÄù