Golden Gophers celebrate title in Puerto Rico

Published 11:20 pm Monday, November 22, 2010

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) — Minnesota wants to win a tournament title in March, not only in November.

If the Golden Gophers — who cracked the Associated Press rankings at No. 15 on Monday — end up with a Big Ten tournament championship on the line later this season, they can look back at their magnificent run in Puerto Rico as the catalyst for it all.

Blake Hoffarber hit the winning 3-pointer with 1:31 left to lift Minnesota to a 74-70 win over West Virginia on Sunday night in the final of the Puerto Rico Tip-Off tournament.

There were nine lead changes and the score was tied 10 times in the title game. Hoffarber finally hit the decisive shot on a baseline 3 in front of an exuberant Minnesota bench for a 73-70 lead with 1:31 to go.

Shortly after, Hoffarber was back near the scene of the winning spot. The Gophers went wild when the final horn sounded and did their little huddle dance in front of the bench. They led a strong number of Minnesota fans in school chants and high-fived the ones in the front row in celebration.

Hoffarber hit 4 3-pointers and scored 12 points for the Golden Gophers (5-0), who capped their four-day run in Puerto Rico with an early season title they hope catapults them toward bigger celebrations.

“I’ve got to compliment my staff,” coach Tubby Smith said. “We identified the type of people we wanted and we got good people, good kids, good men.”

Al Nolen scored 17 points and Trevor Mbakwe added 16 for perhaps the best Gophers team in four years under Smith. Minnesota beat No. 8 North Carolina (2-2) on Friday and a Mountaineers (3-1) team fresh off a run to the Final Four.

“We know we beat a very good West Virginia team and we’re real excited to have won this tournament,” Smith said.