The Gophers men’s basketball team hasn’t had much reason to look forward to many practices this season, particularly since they so often come after losses.
Two factors, though, made the Gophers’ practice Sunday one of the more enjoyable of the season.
“For once after a game we had a practice where everyone was feeling good from the game before,” senior Sam Jacobson said. “It was a good practice. It was upbeat, and everyone had fun. “I’m sure part of that was because we had the next day off, too.”
Minnesota was one day removed from a 88-78 win over then-No. 18 Michigan in which the Gophers hit a school-record 14 three-pointers. With coach Clem Haskins giving them Monday off, they’re now not only more confident but a little more rested.
They’ll have to be, considering Minnesota plays two road games in three days, starting with tonight’s game at Iowa. The Gophers play at Michigan State on Saturday night.
While Haskins recognizes the need to give his injury-riddled team some time off, he’s worried about future repercussions.
“On one hand, you’ve got to think about this year,” Haskins said. “But every day we take off, it helps the guys this year, but players coming back need to play against Sam Jacobson and Eric Harris to get better.”
Haskins not only has an injury quandary with his team, but also with himself. He had minor surgery on his right knee Monday at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, and though doctors have told him he should be on crutches for two weeks, Haskins said he was thinking about two to three days.
“When we get into the Big Ten postseason tournament I want to be strong and healthy and ready to go,” said Haskins, who said he has had his right knee scoped three or four times and had major surgery twice. “And I think in two weeks I’ll be like a bear walking on the sideline.”
Their coach’s surgery notwithstanding, the Gophers are still in relatively good health, not to mention good spirits, coming into tonight’s game. The Hawkeyes, meanwhile, have dropped five of their last six games after a 15-2 start, which included an 82-69 victory over Minnesota at Williams Arena on Jan. 18.
Iowa might even have an injury problem of its own. Senior forward Ryan Bowen, averaging 13.7 points and 8.6 rebounds per game, sprained his knee in a loss to Michigan State on Saturday. Though he played in the second half, Bowen missed practice early in the week. Hawkeyes coach Tom Davis said Tuesday that he hoped Bowen would be able to start against Minnesota.
Much of Iowa’s recent struggles can be traced to the same reason the Gophers have faltered this season.
Both teams lost a premiere guard from last year: Bobby Jackson from Minnesota and Andre Woolridge from Iowa. Consequently, supporting players, like Hawkeyes center Guy Rucker, have suffered. Rucker is averaging eight points per game, compared to 10.6 last year as a freshman.
“Andre was a master at getting him the ball at the right time,” Davis said. “When you don’t have that great guard, which neither one of us has that we had a year ago, some guys don’t look as good.”
Despite the Hawkeyes’ travails lately, they’re still the favorite — partly because the game is at Carver-Hawkeye Arena, where they have won more than 80 percent of the time, and partly because an encore performance of the Gophers’ sizzling shooting against Michigan is highly unlikely. Still, while that game might not be capable of being duplicated, the confidence Minnesota gained from it might compensate.
“Obviously, I don’t think we’ll shoot that well again,” Jacobson said. “But hopefully we’ll stay consistent shooting and keep the same enthusiasm and fire we had, and I think we’ll be just fine.”