Gophers get much-needed statement win vs. Hawkeyes

Gophers get much-needed statement win vs. Hawkeyes
February 26, 2014, 10:30 am
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Vinnie Duber

Minnesota got a huge win Tuesday night, and man did the Gophers need it.

As speculation increases that six Big Ten teams will make the NCAA tournament, the Gophers have been overshadowed by the red-hot Huskers for that sixth and final slot out of the conference.

If it truly is a head-to-head battle of the resumes between Richard Pitino’s crew and Tim Miles’ squad, the Gophers have been losing of late. The Huskers are earning the national attention thanks to their five-game winning streak, and a road win at Michigan State certainly helped. The Gophers, meanwhile, were losers of five of their last seven entering Tuesday night.

But Minnesota put on an offense clinic against Iowa on Tuesday, scoring a gigantic 95-89 win over a ranked group of Hawkeyes. The Gophers shot an astonishing 57.9 percent from 3-point range in the win and got a career-high scoring day from Austin Hollins, who led the charge with 27 points.

[MORE: Huskers keep on winning as tournament draws near]

It’s a win that might single-handedly keep the Gophers’ tournament hopes afloat, but they’re just thankful for the boost in confidence, for breaking out of their losing ways.

"All the wins in general rank pretty high. It's a team sport, and we have to go out there and play together. When we get a win like this, it really helps us out,” Hollins said. “We've had a couple losses, and to get a win against a team like this was huge for us and really helps our confidence."

The win over Iowa gives Minnesota a third marquee conference win, already having dispatched of Wisconsin and Ohio State. But all those have come at home, while four road games (and a home game vs. Michigan) against the Big Ten’s elite have all ended in Minnesota losses. Plus, the Gophers lost to the Huskers in Lincoln.

When it comes to the non-conference schedule, there’s a road win against a good Richmond team and a neutral-court loss to Syracuse, both highlights of the Gophers’ tournament resume.

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So the battle between the Gophers and Huskers for what could be the only undetermined Big Ten slot in the NCAA tournament could come down to the season’s final few games. There’s a big opportunity coming up next for the Gophers, who travel to Ann Arbor to take on the Wolverines on Saturday. That’s the kind of win that could vault them into the Big Dance.

But for now, they’ll take the statement win over the Hawkeyes and what it can teach them moving forward.

“This game showed us that we can finish those kind of games,” Minnesota guard DeAndre Mathieu said. “We just have to do what we've got to do early and keep defending."