GAME NOTES: The Minnesota Golden Gophers and the Northwestern Wildcats will both attempt to rebound from losses when the Big Ten Conference foes meet up at Welsh-Ryan Arena on Sunday.
Although Minnesota sports a solid 16-9 overall record this season, its NCAA Tournament resume has taken a serious hit in recent weeks with losses in four of its last five games. The Gophers most recently dropped a 78-70 decision at Wisconsin on Thursday night as they lost their fifth straight road game and fell to 5-7 in league play.
Northwestern is just 12-13 on the season, but it has been just as effective as Minnesota in the Big Ten with a 5-7 conference mark. The Wildcats had been on the upswing with wins in four of five prior to their current two-game slide with losses at home to Nebraska on Feb. 8 (53-49) and at Michigan State on Thursday (85-70).
The teams met two weeks ago in Minneapolis, with the Wildcats edging the Gophers on Feb. 1, 55-54. Northwestern has won two straight games in the series, but Minnesota still holds a 93-63 advantage all time.
The Gophers fell behind Wisconsin by seven points at the half in their most recent game and could never climb back in it down the stretch, as they were outshot from the field in the eight-point setback, 48.8 percent to 45.1 percent, and lost the turnover battle, 13-7. Andre Hollins was stellar despite the loss, pouring in 22 points on 4-of-6 from 3-point range, while Malik Smith was also impressive from beyond the arc (4-of-7) adding 14 points off the bench.
Despite its slide of late, Minnesota still boasts solid all-around numbers on the season, shooting 44.6 percent from the field for 74.0 ppg while allowing 68.3 ppg on just 42.5 percent shooting, and it also has positive margins in terms of rebounding (+2.4) and turnovers (+1.1). Andre Hollins puts up a team- best 15.2 ppg, despite shooting only 40.9 percent from the field. DeAndre Mathieu (11.7 ppg) hands out more than four assists per outing, Austin Hollins (11.4 ppg) and Smith (10.1 ppg) are solid scorers and Elliott Eliason (6.0 ppg, 7.6 rpg, 2.4 bpg) is a mainstay in the paint.
The Wildcats were no match for the mighty Spartans in their latest tilt, as they fell behind by nine at intermission and never got closer than that the rest of the game. They shot a respectable 46.2 percent from the field but allowed MSU to make greater than 53 percent of its tries from the floor, and they also lost the rebounding battle, 37-24. JerShon Cobb shot 5-of-11 from 3- point range on his way to a team-high 22 points, Drew Crawford tallied 18 points and seven assists and Tre Demps came off the bench to score 18 points as well.
Northwestern has been able to remain competitive this season thanks to its outstanding defense, as it allows a mere 63.7 ppg on 40.9 percent field-goal shooting by its opponents. Unfortunately it has been held back by a poor scoring offense (61.2 ppg), which ranks 343rd in the nation, and its negative rebounding margin (-3.4) hasn't helped matters much either. Crawford is the catalyst, putting up 16.2 ppg, 6.7 rpg and nearly a block per contest. Cobb (12.0 ppg) and Demps (10.8 ppg) round out the double-digit scorers, while Alex Olah (8.0 ppg, 5.1 rpg, 1.9 bpg) is an anchor in the frontcourt.
Minnesota's season has hit a tailspin in recent weeks and its struggles on the road have been well documented, meaning Northwestern should be in line to get back on the winning track in front of its home crowd.
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