Boy, that escalated quickly.
Northwestern beat no. 14 Minnesota at home by a score of 55-48 in one of the more surprising upsets of the season. Northwestern’s defense took the game over in the second half, leading to a Minnesota offensive collapse. Despite their talent inferiority, size disadvantage and the loss of their best player for the whole season, Northwestern was still able to pull off the shocker over Minnesota.
For the Gophers, this was a game of poor execution and general sloppiness. Their offense came to a standstill late in the second half, allowing Northwestern to make a big run, to take the lead. Following the 5th foul by Austin Hollins, Minnesota started to fall apart, leading to an 18-4 Wildcat run, including 6 turnovers for Minnesota.
Offensively, Minnesota had no answers for the Northwestern defense all game. Nobody had the hot hand, and their offense became a poorly played game of hot potato. Trevor Mbakwe had a solid all-around game, racking up a double double, with 14 points and 16 rebounds. Unfortunately, for Minnesota, no other Gopher made more than 3 field goals. Northwestern’s 1-3-1 defense never allowed Minnesota to get the ball inside, resulting in jump shots. Those jump shots just did not fall.
The Wildcats walk away from tonight’s game with a second upset of a ranked team in three games. After opening up conference play 1-3, Northwestern has bounced back and won 2 of 3. A team that nobody gave much of a chance to do anything in the Big Ten is suddenly making noise, and upsetting the top ranks of the conference.
Jared Swopshire has really stepped up in the last few games, especially Wednesday, scoring 15 points, with 7 rebounds. Northwestern’s defense, though, has been the difference in the last few games. They held both Illinois and Minnesota under 40% shooting, and 8-39 on three point shots in Northwestern’s last 2 wins.
Minnesota has now lost 3 consecutive games, and are in free fall in the crowded Big Ten standings, sitting at 3-3, 7th in the conference. They have gone through one of the toughest parts of the schedule, having had to play Indiana and Michigan, before their loss at Northwestern. The problem is, things never get much easier in this conference. They can’t afford to lose their confidence and lose any more games in a row. The fact that Minnesota now has to travel up to Wisconsin, does not help their cause. Tubby Smith has to get them back to the basics: throwing the ball down low to Mbakwe and Rodney Williams, to get the Gophers back on track.
Minnesota does not have time to feel bad for themselves, as they can go from a top 10 team, last week, to possibly unranked, if they lose again this week at Wisconsin.
The question for Northwestern now becomes: how long can this strong play last? They are now 3-4, and could even become a bubble team if they can keep winning games and continue their hot streak. They get a chance to win their 3rd straight and get back to .500, if the beat Nebraska on Saturday.