Saturday, November 12, 2011

Gophers beat Bucknell with a Late Surge

Read that post title again.  Doesn't seem likely.  For the past few seasons anytime "late surge" has been involved the Gophers have usually been the one who got surged on, and it almost happened again Friday night, but - and this is major - it didn't.

It looked like the Gophers were mostly in control in the first half, but due to four three-pointers by Bucknell's Bryson Johnson (including a ridiculous one while floating sideways), poor shooting by the Gophers and a complete inability to hit free throws Minnesota was only up 2 at the half.  I thought they had it in control and even texted Snacks, who was at some concert, that it was only a matter of time and the Gophers would win by double-digits.  I was right, in the end, but man it did not happen how I was expecting.

With 7.5 minutes left in the second half, Bucknell hit a 3-pointer to take a 2-point lead.  After Rodney hit one of two free-throws I turned to Bear and said, "Watch, Bucknell will hit a three here, Gophers won't score, and Bucknell will hit a third one."  Boom.  Well almost, Rodney did make another free throw in there but Bucknell did hit two more threes and were suddenly up seven with just shy of 6 minutes to play.  It was playing out like Virginia last year, and both teams even wear the same colors.  I felt ill.  And then a strange thing happened.

The Gophers started making free throws, hitting 15 of their last 17 (after going just 8-18 prior).  They started attack the basket after a second half that had mostly consisted of perimeter passing amongst the guards with little penetration or post presence.  They started hitting the boards, playing better defense, and essentially just played the way the Gophers should play.  Trevor Mbakwe, Austin Hollins, Julian Welch, and Ralph Sampson took over this game in those final six minutes, particularly Mbakwe, and took this game back, a game that was following a familiar script before the big twist ending, M. Night style.

A lot of people will be unsatisfied with this win, seeing just the name Bucknell and realizing the Bison are a very solid team who likely will end up in the NCAA Tournament.  Even more impressive to me was the way they fought back against that good team.  That's something I'm not accustomed to in recent years.  I'm giving this game a solid B+, despite the slow first half.

Other game thoughts:

1.  I'm pretty sure Bucknell gave us the blueprint for the defense nearly every opponent the Gophers face this year will roll out - double Ralph and Trevor on the block and force the other guys, and specifically the other guys outside shooting, to beat them.  With poor 3-point shooting from the entire team so far this year, including the two exhibitions, it's a pretty good strategy and what teams should do.  Keep in mind that the Gophers don't necessarily have to hit three-pointers to beat it, they just need use those double-teams to find cutters and move the ball for open shots.  Although hitting some threes would help - Austin Hollins three-pointer to cut Bucknell's lead to two was one of the biggest of the game.

2.  Speaking of hitting cutters, Ralph Sampson was absolutely brilliant in the high post.  He's always going to be a good passing big man, and was against Bucknell, but when he's knocking down that jump shot he's an incredible weapon.  He hit several deep jumpers last night, and because he loves the deep jumper so much when he gets that going it energizes him and it showed on the boards and blocking shots last night.  He was still way too tentative on the block for a 7-footer, but you can handle that when he puts the game together like he did on Friday.  I'm still afraid that if Sampson's jumper isn't falling he's going to go into a funk and cost this team some games.

3.  Julian Welch is absolutely confusing, because he has incredibly fast hands and very slow feet.  Bucknell's guards were routinely able to get past him, with or without the ball, but he was also able to get two steals were he just straight out picked Cameron Ayers and nearly had a third.  It was so bad that Ayers stopped bringing the ball up the court when Welch was in the game, and once Julian checked out he'd go back to being the point man.  Pretty hilarious.  Those good defensive plays looked pretty and will color a lot of opinions, but Welch is definitely a sub-par man-on-man defender overall.  Still, to be able to just pick a D-I point guard's pocket, and I did like what I saw from him offensively since he was one of the few guys who was willing to attack the basket.  I'll say I'm impressed but have some reservations.

4.  Trevor Mbakwe is going to be in foul trouble in some games.  I know this isn't going out on a limb, but it's crazy how he just throws his body at people whether it's with the ball, on defense, or positioning for a rebound.  You get the wrong ref on the wrong day and Mbakwe's going to spend a lot of time on the bench.  That's not going to be a very fun day.

5.  Joe Coleman has a long way to go.  Not that it's going out on a limb since he's a freshman, and it's not even surprising or anything, but Coleman is meh so far.  His defense is pretty terrible, although I think that's mainly due to lack of focus more than anything else, and his big highlight play against Bucknell was a near three-point play (he missed the free throw, natch) where he basically charged right at three Bucknell defenders, somehow made the shot, and was gifted with a foul call.  He's still playing like he's the only show in town and he's up against Spring Lake Park.  I'm not giving up on him at all, I just don't expect he'll play much once we hit conference play.

6.  Bryson Johnson of Bucknell is one hell of a shooter even if he looks like this assface I used to play against in high school.  He's aslo absolutely terrified when he gets the ball in the paint and has no idea what to do, even if he's the one who brought the ball in there with him.  He only had one turnover, but there were at least two other times he got into the lane and just had no idea what to do with it and the team didn't get a good shot.  Way to be well-rounded, nerd.

I think that'll pretty much do it for now.  No matter what dumb people think this was a good win.  Also I didn't mention Rodney Williams because, once again, there's nothing worth mentioning.  I wish there was a way to trade him to someone who still believes.

Anyway, Gophers win and it's a good win.  I'll take it.

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