In a perfect world, the Gophers men’s basketball team would win the Big Ten championship outright in front of the home crowd at Williams Arena. The team and its fans would celebrate the program’s first title in 15 years by playing the Rouser and savoring the accomplishment.
Alright, enough of the Kodak moment. But if it works out the way No. 2 Minnesota hopes it will, the Gophers won’t be celebrating the title at Williams. It will be tonight in Crisler Arena in Ann Arbor, Mich., where the Gophers play Michigan.
“It’s a hard pick,” senior John Thomas said. “You always want to win at home because the fans can enjoy it, but we want to win as many games as possible. I think it would be sweeter to win at home, but it would be better for us to win on the road.”
The Gophers aren’t as concerned about winning the title outright anymore. All they have to do is win one more game and they have it. There’s a new goal to strive for.
“Right now we’re playing for a No. 1 seed,” center Trevor Winter said. “We know all we have to do is win one more game to win the Big Ten and that’s not, really not, a lot of motivation to win the rest of our games. We want to beat Kansas. We want them to lose a game and move up to the No. 1 spot.”
The Gophers toughest task comes tonight. They haven’t won at Crisler Arena since 1982 — they have a 1-26 overall record there — and No. 24 Michigan has lost its last three games, so it’s bound to snap that streak soon. The Wolverines have shown in wins against Arizona and Duke that they can beat the best. And they said they wouldn’t forget their loss against the Gophers earlier this season.
“We have another game with them coming to Crisler, and if anyone wants to judge the better team they can judge then,” Michigan forward Maurice Taylor said after its 70-64 loss at Williams Arena.
But for all the reasons someone could come up with why Minnesota should lose, they should look at the past year and how time and time again the Gophers have overcome difficult circumstances and have still found a way to win.
ù Eric Harris’ jump shot with four seconds left beat Creighton 64-63 last November in the San Juan Shootout. The win set the Gophers up for the tournament title game against Clemson the following day. They beat the Tigers, 75-65, and moved up from No. 24 to No. 16 in the AP poll.
ù Down by seven points with 58 seconds to go, Minnesota came back and beat Indiana 96-91 in overtime Jan. 8 in Bloomington, Ind. Gophers guard Bobby Jackson hit a 3-pointer with 33.8 seconds left to tie the game. Sam Jacobson scored the first six points in overtime to seal the win.
ù The Gophers defeat Michigan 70-64 at Williams Arena three days later. Minnesota moves up four spots to No. 7 in the AP poll.
ù In West Lafayette, Ind., on Feb. 12 at Mackey Arena, Minnesota beat three-time defending Big Ten champion Purdue 70-67. The win was the first for Haskins at Mackey and the first for the Gophers since 1982, the last time they won the Big Ten title.
ù The Gophers hold on three days later to beat Iowa on the road when Hawkeyes guard Andre Woolridge missed an open jump shot that would have won the game. The Gophers improve to 22-2 and move up to No. 2 in the polls, their highest ranking in school history.
ù Gophers center John Thomas makes two free throws last Saturday to beat Illinois 67-66 with 4.7 seconds left. The Gophers clinch at least a tie for the Big Ten title with the win.
“It seems like this is a season of destiny, but you don’t really want to play on that,” Winter said. “You’d like to believe that we worked hard enough and we’ve gone out and executed.”
Notes: Basketball Times magazine named Gophers shooting guard Bobby Jackson a second team All-American. It named Haskins the Midwest Region Coach of the Year.