Gophers aim to slow “fastest 40 minutes in basketball’

Minnesota is hoping for the return of Maurice Hargrow in tonight’s game.

C.J. Spang

While Minnesota’s men’s basketball team has faced a variety of opponents this season, none will be like the self-proclaimed “fastest 40 minutes in basketball.”

Alabama-Birmingham’s basketball team (4-2) coined the term in reference to their stingy defense ” harkening back to coach Mike Anderson’s days as an assistant coach with Arkansas and its “40 minutes in hell.”

Like the Razorbacks, the Blazers are a team that relies on its high-pressure defense to win ball games.

Alabama-Birmingham will employ the same strategy when it plays Minnesota (5-2) at 7 tonight at Williams Arena.

“This is like playing Princeton or facing Phil Niekro or the wishbone offense,” coach Dan Monson said. “It’s hard to prepare for because it’s difficult to get your team to simulate it, number one, and number two, you don’t see it but once a year.”

Led by point guard Cardell “Squeaky” Johnson, who averages 4.5 steals a game, Alabama-Birmingham is tied for third in the country with 13.5 steals a game, and the Blazers also are forcing an average of 23.7 turnovers a game ” five more than the Gophers.

The only other team Minnesota has faced that had a comparable defense was Maryland. Against the Terrapins, the Gophers turned the ball over a season-high 22 times.

But in that game, and virtually every game this season, Minnesota has had to use an adapted lineup ” something that is hard to adjust to.

“It’s impossible,” Monson said. “It’s been a different basketball team every game, we haven’t had the same personnel for a game yet. I don’t know of anybody in America could say that at this late in the stage.”

However, the Gophers have senior guard Vincent Grier back, as well as sophomore guard Rico Tucker, and Minnesota is “hopeful” that senior guard Maurice Hargrow will play tonight.

While it may be impossible for the team to adjust, the players don’t think it’s a distraction.

“I don’t think it’s been a big distraction or anything for us, just because the way the coaching staff has prepared us,” senior guard Adam Boone said. “They’ve talked to us from the first absence we had this year that the important thing is going to be how we play in terms of our effort and our attitude.”

And just like last season, the Gophers are known for their hard-nosed play, especially on the boards and on defense.

“If we get out there and do the best we can, we show an identity as a team that plays defense and gets after loose balls and that kind of thing,” Boone said. “It won’t matter who is out there doing it.”