Saturday, December 4, 2010

Minneapolis Star Tribune Previews Big Red at Gophers

Gameday: Gophers vs. Cornell

By Myron D. Medcalf
Minneapolis Star Tribune
December 4, 2010

Preview: The Gophers (6-1) look to bounce back against Cornell (2-5) after suffering their first nonconference home loss under Tubby Smith on Monday, 87-79 to Virginia in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.

The Gophers will win because ... Their loss to the Cavaliers was a reality check. They know the danger of a defensive letdown, especially since they are playing another team that they are supposed to beat. Cornell has a minus-10 average rebounding margin this season, a problem for a team facing the Big Ten's second-ranked rebounding offense (39.7 per game).

The Gophers will lose because ... They have to play another game without injured guard Al Nolen. He's the Big Ten steals leader, and his absence was obvious when the Gophers got picked apart. They also have the league's No. 10 field-goal percentage defense (41 percent) and scoring defense (70.0 ppg).

Neither Tubby Smith nor his players enjoyed watching film of the loss to Virginia, with the coach saying, "It was as bad as I thought it was."

Tubby Smith said video from the Gophers' 87-79 loss to Virginia on Monday confirmed what he suspected about his team's defensive problems.

"After watching the film, the Virginia game, it was as bad as I thought it was," the coach said Friday, a day before the Gophers were to play host to Cornell. "We really didn't defend like we should."

He added: "Teams that win are teams that usually have the best shooting percentage and can figure out a way to stop you, and [Virginia] did that. The last few days, we've been working on correcting some of the defensive mistakes we made."

Trevor Mbakwe said players endured more running and "Tubby stares" than usual this week in practice. But he said they understand the staff's reaction and don't want to repeat their mistakes from the program's first nonconference home loss in four seasons under Smith. They surrendered 58 points to the Cavaliers in the second half.

"It was just an embarrassment, really, when we watched the film," said Mbakwe, a junior forward averaging 14.3 points and 9.3 rebounds per game. "We were letting them go wherever, do whatever they wanted to do in the second half. And we pride ourselves on defense. So watching that, it was pretty embarrassing for us as players."

Smith said he hopes Monday's loss gave the 15th-ranked Gophers a reality check after they got off to a 6-0 start, including victories over North Carolina and West Virginia on their way to winning the Puerto Rico Tip-Off.

"I didn't think we needed a wake-up call, but if we can use it as that, we will use it as that," Smith said. "Good teams will expose you, and that's what happened. I'm sure [Gophers players] won't be overconfident now. I think we got that across the last couple of days."

After Monday's game, Smith told his players that he wished one of them would "evolve" into a stubborn defender like 2009-10 senior co-captain Damian Johnson, who attended Monday's game.

ut one player might not have altered the final score for a Gophers team with the 10th-ranked scoring defense in the Big Ten (70.0 points per game).

"We need more defensive intensity and more defensive pressure at the point of attack," Smith said.

With defensive standout Al Nolen sidelined by a foot injury and Rodney Williams hampered by a sprained ankle, freshmen Maverick Ahanmisi and Austin Hollins started against the Cavs. And junior guard Devoe Joseph made his season debut after being suspended the first six games.

But the Gophers can't make excuses for their poor effort if they expect to improve, Joseph said.

"That is difficult, but at the end of the day, no excuses," Joseph said. "We have a strong team. We have a good bench. We have lots of guys."

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