Friday, January 16, 2009

Freaking Incredible

I can't get over it. Minnesota 78, Wisconsin 74. In overtime. In Madison. Unreal, just unreal. And I (along with Dawger and Bogart) had the pleasure of being there. Can't get over it. Since I just go back from Madison and am incredibly tired thanks to the long, long, hungover drive instead of trying to write anything resembling a coherent, flowing post, I'll just list out everything that was awesome.

- Tubby Smith. It's been said over and over again, but it's impossible to say enough about this man. Setting aside the recruiting, which has obviously been incredible, his game skills are just insane. Tubby outcoached Bo Ryan last night, and that was the biggest reason for the win, apologies to Lawrence Westbrook. For most of the night, and especially first half, the Gopher offense looked completely out of sync and mostly just lost. Nothing seemed to be working, but in the second half Tubby switched to a smaller, faster, and more athletic lineup of Westbrook, Carter, Bostick, DJ, and Hoffarber. Wisconsin had no answer. With a slower, less athletically inclined team, Wisconsin could not keep up with the Gophers. On defense, they swarmed the Badgers, forced them into numerous turnovers - 17 total for the game, most of which came in the second half. On offense, they ran three man weave, where Hoffarber would bring the ball up, cut to a side and hand off to either Bostick or Westbrook who would then look to drive and if it wasn't there would hand it off to the other one. The Badgers couldn't stop it, and the Gophers got layup after layup. As a matter of fact, the Gophers scored 20 points on their last 10 possessions, many of which using this offense. Great job by Tubby.

- Lawrence Westbrook showed how he scored 40 points a game in high school, showing the aggressiveness we've seen in a couple of early games but this time finishing. For the game, L-Dub ended up with 29 points on 10-16 shooting from the floor. He scored from the outside (2-2 on threes), he scored driving, and he scored in transition. An absolute huge game from Westbrook, rivaling the Vincent Grier display from the Wisconsin game back in the day.

- Damian Johnson made some of the biggest plays of the day, mainly a blocked shot on Wisconsin towards the end as well as a putback late off a missed layup and, of course, the huge three pointer to cut Wisconsin's lead to 1 with under a minute to go. The guy who I said should probably not shoot the ball beyond about twelve feet made a nice jump fake, dribble-step back, and easily swished the second biggest shot of the game and looked smooth doing it. DJ became Voshon Lenard for one play, and it was awesome. He still probably shouldn't make a habit of it though.

- Paul Carter and Devron Bostick, showing why they belong and taking over in the final half. Bostick became scoring option #2 on the day, playing a career high 21 minutes and putting up 11 points, including the game sealing dunk which shut up the stupid Wisconsin fans for good. It was clear that after Westbrook, he was the guy. Carter made a couple of bad mistakes towards the end, including missing the front of a one-and-one and then dribbling the ball of his leg, giving it back to Wisconsin. He more than made up for it with the most awesome blocked shot in history on Jason Bohannon's layup (and thanks for not just pulling it out and running clock, by the way) and his tenacious rebounding. Carter pulled down a game high 11 rebounds as the Gophers damn near outrebounded Bucky, which is a pretty big deal by itself. The fact that Tubby never pulled him speaks volumes about the confidence he has in Carter, and I for one, agree.

- Let's not forget this win happened without much of a contribution from Al Nolen, other than in the early minutes. He finished with 7 points and 5 steals, and certainly got the team out to the big first half lead (which was quickly erased) but was almost non-existent in the second half due to foul trouble, and was gone before the overtime. Nolen showed once again that he is nearly unguardable when he drives, but the Badgers didn't give him any passing lanes to dish and he foreced up a huge variety of horrible "layups" that only Lawrence Westbrook could have made. It's the first time this year I've been horrified by Nolen, and the fact that they won anyway is a beautiful thing.

- I still can't believe they won in the Madison. I can't believe I was there. I can't believe I got a free SoCo shirt from the SoCo girls. I can't believe how subdued everyone was at the bars. I can't believe the Badger fan we went to the game with threw up a little bit on the floor of one of those bars. Awesome trip, all the way around.

- I don't think I'll have a chance to write a full-on preview of the Gophers vs. those nerds from Northwestern. If I get a chance I will, but make no mistake this is a perfect set-up for a let down game. I'd like to think it won't happen with Tubby as the coach, but these kind of things happen to some of the best teams. The Gophers have them on talent and coaching, and should win this game by at least ten, but after a big win on the road, as well as Northwestern's near miss against Purdue which will have them pissed off, I think they throw everything they have at the Gophers. Despite another career day for Shamala, a sluggish game coupled with the Wildcats getting hot down the stretch results in the cancellation of the biggest Gopher win in at least ten years: Northwestern 58, Minnesota 52. Prove me wrong kids, beat the nerds.