Saturday, December 20, 2008
Well, I obviously didn't expect this. By far the most impressive Gopher victory in I can't even remember how long, the Gophers knocked off #9 Louisville today 70-64 in Arizona, despite getting almost nothing from the homecoming Lawrence Westbrook, who wallowed in foul trouble all day and ended up playing minimal minutes and scoring just two points.
The star of the game was by far Al Nolen, who the Cardinals had absolutely no answer for. Despite their four-headed monster at point guard, none of them could contain Nolen going to the hoop. He only shot 2-7, but drew foul after foul and ended up going to the line seventeen times, making 13 of them. Even when he didn't make the play, he drew the help defense and dished off to an open teammate, resulting in five assists and several other times he dished to a dude who was fouled himself. Truly a dominant performance. I think the last ten Gopher possessions were nothing more than milking the clock, then giving it to Nolen and letting him drive past whatever poor dumb bastard Pitino had trying to guard him. Absolutely dominating game.
The other big star of the game was the team's defense against Louisville. I really thought they wouldn't be able to stop the Cardinals, but Tubby's coaching really shined here. Despite inferior athletes, Tubby's scheme frustrated Samuels, Clark, and Williams with double-teams whenever the caught the ball on the block, and helping and sliding into lanes whenever anybody drove from the perimeter. Couple that with the team's incredibly impressive showing on the boards (just 28-25 L'Ville), and Tubby deserves every bit of praise he gets for this win and for the overall turnaround in the program after just one-plus seasons. The Cardinals did the Gophers a favor by ending up settling for a lot of jump shots, but in large part that was due to overall Minnesota defense. Really, really impressive.
Two last points I want to touch on quickly are Blake Hoffarber and Travis Busch. Blake I think is rapidly approaching Jake Sullivan status, where he an pretty much chuck it up at any time from any where and I'll be ok with it. The overall team has proven themselves to be quick enough and intelligent enough on the defensive end to hide Hoff's defensive deficiencies, which aren't nearly as bad as they were last year. This team is really set up to be a giant next season once RW-squared gets here. I can't remember feeling this way about a Gopher team since 1997, which of course, never happened.
Finally, Travis Busch, who won over the announcers hearts and minds with his grit, hustle, and overall David Eckstein-ness today on the way to a career high 13 points. His offensive game is clearly developing to be better than I would have thought possible, and I think he probably reads this web-log since he seems to be passing the ball a lot more lately. I, however, would argue that he gave back nearly that many points today bwith his shoddy defense and poor decision making. At one point he was inexplicably put on Earl Clark, who scored the next six points for Louisville by taking it at Busch and whose eyes must have lit up like a kid on Christmas. He's convinced me he has some kind of role on this team. I'm not sure what it is, but I don't think it's crunch time player, although Tubby had him in there for some bizarre reason at the end of today's game. They won, so I won't belabor the point. Good offensive game today, Hair Pie, and awesome win for the team. I'm even going to give them a chance to beat Michigan State now, which I hadn't planned to do before.
And what ever happened to Edgar Sosa? He was a terror two seasons ago as a freshman, even scoring 31 in the team's NCAA tournament loss to Texas A&M. Now he's averaging a career low in points and field goal percentage, and a career high in turnovers. Oof.