NCAA tournament: Gophers earn No. 11 seed, face No. 6 UCLA on Friday

Andrew Krammer

Rodney Williams and Austin Hollins sat at the podium Sunday, looking like a team that just missed out on the NCAA Tournament.

The co-captains were disjointed, appearing removed from the situation – the situation that the Gophers earned a No. 11 seed and will play No. 6 UCLA in Austin, Texas, on Friday in the NCAA Tournament. 

There were few smiles and fewer laughs as Williams, one of two current Gophers to have played in an NCAA Tournament before, was questioned about any pressure he might feel to win in his final year.

“I think every time you want to go out and prove something,” Williams said. “[We want to] make it known we’re a team to be reckoned with.”

Hollins said the Gophers’ mood was on the upswing, despite a 5-11 record since Jan. 12.

“I think everyone was happy,” Hollins said. “As should be…we’ve had our ups and downs this season, but that’s behind us.”

Minnesota landed right where Tubby Smith-coached Gophers teams have been in the past. The 2009-10 squad lost to No. 6 Xavier as an 11-seed. The year prior, No. 10 Minnesota lost to No. 7 Texas in the first round.

Even though the Gophers have lost three consecutive games heading into the Big Dance, Smith said he’s going to roll with the lineup he’s kept all season.

“We’ll play the way we usually play,” Smith said. “Not a whole lot more we can change at this point.”

Seniors Trevor Mbakwe and Williams will try to extend their Minnesota careers against a Bruins squad that ended the season No. 21 in the final AP poll.

Smith, who received a three-year extension last summer, earns $100,000 for making it to the “first round” of the NCAA Tournament.

However, Smith’s lawyer could get another $50,000 out of the situation. Technically, the first round of the NCAA Tournament is the two “First Four” games. The Gophers are already in the second round.