Minnesota cruises past Northwestern

Published 9:10am Monday, January 23, 2012


MINNEAPOLIS — After an 0-4 start to the Big Ten season, the Minnesota Golden Gophers are suddenly picking up some steam to try to get back into the postseason conversation.

Now slumping Northwestern needs to go on a similar run if it hopes to capture that elusive NCAA tournament bid.

Rodney Williams had 11 points and four steals and flustered the Big Ten’s leading scorer to help Minnesota to its third straight win, 75-52 over Northwestern on Sunday.

Williams added three blocks and Joe Coleman had 16 points, five rebounds and three steals for the Gophers (15-5, 3-4).

“I can feel us gaining confidence with each win,” said coach Tubby Smith, whose Gophers appeared to be dead in the water after consecutive home losses to Iowa and Purdue dropped them to 0-4 in the conference.

John Shurna scored 21 points for the Wildcats (12-7, 2-5), but he shot just 8 of 21 and scored 10 of those points in the final 11 minutes with the game already decided.

Northwestern shot 32.7 percent and missed its first 15 shots of the game to lose for the fourth time in five games. Drew Crawford, the Big Ten’s third-leading scorer at 17.6 points per game, managed just five points on 2 for 10 shooting.

“Everything was off,” Wildcats coach Bill Carmody said. “I don’t know what to say, to tell you the truth.”

Ralph Sampson III had 10 points and six rebounds and Julian Welch added 14 points and five assists for the Gophers. Minnesota shot 57.7 percent and had 10 steals as it tries to stay in the NCAA tournament discussion without star Trevor Mbakwe, who is out for the season with a knee injury.

Wins at Indiana and Penn State and now at home against Northwestern have steadied the Gophers after such a rocky start.

“Just be aggressive and go at teams,” Coleman said. “We started out slow and we kind of just were playing not to lose. We have to start playing to win and going out and taking teams down like we are supposed to do and not let them attack us first.”

The Wildcats won 10 of their first 11 games, raising hopes that they would make the NCAA tournament for the first time in the program’s history.