Feb. 17, 2014
Notes, quotes and observations from Minnesota's 54-48 win over the `Cats Sunday night at Welsh-Ryan Arena courtesy of NUsports.com Special Contributor Skip Myslenski.
Chris Collins was right on when he opened his post-game press conference by saying, "It was a really hard-fought game tonight, like most of our games are. It kind of followed the same script that a lot of our games have. If you hold a team to 54 points and turn them over 17 times, you should be in a great position to win. But we just couldn't score enough points."
HERE IS ANOTHER way this game followed a script that is growing familiar. Eight days earlier, when the `Cats fell at home to Nebraska, the Huskers ran a second defender at Drew Crawford whenever he touched the ball, which limited him to 13 points on four-of-13 shooting from the field. On Sunday the Gophers treated him similarly and again he struggled, ending with just two points while going one-of-15 from the field. "We went into the game soft-trapping Drew Crawford because he really hurt us at our place (where he scored 17 on six-of-nine shooting in the `Cats one-point win)," their coach, Richard Pitino, would later explain.
The Huskers, in that game, also ran a second defender at the explosive Tre Demps, which limited him to three points on two-of-six shooting. The Gophers, in turn, took that approach one step further and worked constantly to keep him from even getting the ball. "They did a great job of denying," said Demps, who ended with nine points on four-of-13 shooting. "I'm used to having the ball in my hands. But for awhile it kind of felt I was just running up-and-down the court. I thought their guards did a great job defensively of denying the ball and making other guys handle it."
"I thought they did a great job on both Drew and Tre, which took away our rhythm," echoed Collins. "Even though we didn't turn the ball over (the `Cats ended with just eight), those guys not being able to get the ball in their sweet spots just took them out of their rhythm a little bit."
A FAMILIAR COUNTER, when a player is struggling, is to get him to the line. That way, the thinking goes, he gets to see the ball go through the basket and that might kick start his offense. But Sunday, even in a game as physical as this one, neither Crawford nor Demps had a free-throw attempt. "That's on me. I've got to get them in positions where they can get fouled," said Collins. "When it's not going, that's how you manufacture some points."
JerShon Cobb, the 6-foot-5 guard, did manufacture points against the Gophers, who opened by guarding him straight up with the 5-foot-9 DeAndre Mathieu. He had 13 at halftime, which ended with the `Cats up three, and 21 after dropping a foul line jumper with 10:18 remaining. But then, Pitino would later say, "We adjusted and started soft-trapping Cobb because he just makes tough shots and he's got great confidence right now."
"Down the stretch," said Cobb himself, "they were trying to get the ball out of my hands, so I made the plays to my teammates. It's not about me scoring a lot of points."
THE `CATS led by two after Cobb dropped his jumper and were still tied with the Gophers at 44 when Alex Olah completed an old-fashioned three-point play at 7:10. But now came a freeze deeper than this winter and here were the results. Cobb, who was battling some foul trouble, would go 0-for-three down the stretch and score not another point. And the `Cats, after Olah's free throw, would not score again until Kale Abrahamson made a pair of free throws at 19.3 and would not make another field goal until Demps dropped an uncontested layup at 10.9. "Our defense was tremendous, and we fought," Collins would later say.
"This game was about our inability to score when we needed to. Some of that is on us. But I thought Minnesota did a really good job. They made it hard for our main guys to even catch the ball. They were fully denying them and, like I said, I thought it took their rhythm away, especially with Drew and with Tre. So a lot of that was their effort. I thought their team played really well defensively tonight."
STILL, WITH JUST OVER three minutes remaining, the `Cats trailed by only two when Demps drove down the right chute and into a thicket of bodies. He here offered a tough layup that missed and now Olah, after going up for the rebound, landed on the foot of Gopher forward Maurice Walker and went down. That gave Minnesota a five-on-four break and it cashed in this opportunity, Austin Hollins dropping a three-pointer from the right wing as Crawford flew out at him.
"I think if they have a transition, they don't want to take a break away from a team," Collins later said when asked about the rule that determines when play stops for an injury. "It was close. They had transition and then I thought the action kind of subsided. Then they swung the ball to Hollins. The problem was, in a normal situation, you take a foul. But we were over the limit, so I didn't want to take a foul there and just give them two points. It was such a hard-fought game. But it was a big play. It's not anyone's fault. It's sometimes you get an unlucky break like that."
COLLINS DID NOT KNOW the severity of Olah's injury or how it might effect his future availability. But, after twisting his right ankle, he was done for the evening, and now that was effectively true of the `Cats as well. Down five, Cobb's attempted layup was blocked by Walker and, after the ball went out off a Gopher, Demps missed a jumper. Their defense remained stout and held Minnesota without a field goal over the last three minutes of this game. But, in that same interim, Cobb missed a three and Sanjay Lumpkin missed a pair of free throws, Crawford missed a three and then was called for a charge, and Abrahamson missed the front end at 34.4. The Gophers, in contrast, now hit five-of-six from the line, and that was it. "Our margin for error in this league is very slim," Collins would later say.
"We're going to play close games and we have to execute down the stretch and get stops. The games that we've won, we've done those things. The games that we haven't, the other team has done those things."
NEBRASKA, IN ITS WIN, concentrated on shutting down Crawford and Demps. Minnesota, in this win, concentrated first on shutting down Crawford and later on doing the same to Cobb. All that, of course, is now part of the past, yet it may also be a hint of the future as well. Collins himself acknowledged this Sunday night when he finally said, "When teams take Tre and Drew, or a combination of two of my three scorers, out of the game, usually it's going to be tough for us. I don't see that changing the last five games."
Be the first to know what's going on with the 'Cats -- Follow @NU_Sports on Twitter, become a fan of Northwestern Athletics on Facebook, subscribe to the NU Sports Express e-newsletter and sign up to receive promotional text alerts for the latest news, schedule updates and video and to interact with NU. For more information on following specific Northwestern teams online, visit our Social Media page!