Minnesota road woes continue

Published 10:05 pm Sunday, March 10, 2013

By St. Paul Pioneer Press

Remember how dominant the University of Minnesota basketball team looked on the road in early January, when it was ranked No. 8 in the country and won by 17 points at Illinois?

It’s hard to believe this is the same team.

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The Gophers (20-10, 8-9) have lost seven straight road games since then to go from Big Ten title contender to also-ran after a 53-51 loss at Nebraska on Wednesday.

Minnesota’s players had no answer Wednesday as to why they’ve struggled so much away from Williams Arena.

“It’s tough to win on the road, when we really shoot ourselves in the foot,” Trevor Mbakwe said.

“It was a packed house and their last time playing here,” sophomore guard Andre Hollins said, referring to the Cornuskers’ final game in the Bob Devaney Center. “We had a lot going against us.”

It’s hard to win on the road in the Big Ten — just look at Michigan losing to Penn State.”

But that might have been the upset of the year in college basketball. Though Nebraska fans rushed the court Wednesday, Minnesota’s loss wasn’t too shocking considering that 1-7 road record in the Big Ten — tied with Nebraska for second worst in the league. The Gophers have no more games at the Barn this season, so they’ll have to figure out how to play well away from

home if they want to win again.

The Gophers displayed the right formula for a road victory against Illinois. They shot 53 percent from the field and the Illini to 35 percent. They also had a third scorer to help Mbakwe and Hollins. Joe Coleman had 29 points, while Mbakwe and Hollins scored 19 and 22, respectively.

On Wednesday, Mbakwe and Hollins, who combined for 29 points, were the only scorers in double figures. Coleman, Rodney Williams and Austin Hollins all went scoreless.

In eight league road games, the Gophers are shooting 38 percent from the field. In nine league home games, they’re shooting 47 percent. The free-throw shooting is pretty close at 64 percent on the road and 66 percent at home — not impressive in either case. There also is only a slight difference in turnovers, 15 per game on the road compared with 12 at home.

But Minnesota’s scoring on the road (48 points a game) isn’t even close to what it is at home (70).

“We’re having a tough time shooting the ball,” coach Tubby Smith said Wednesday. “And that’s been a real concern for us. And tonight, it showed up again.”

Smith said Nebraska’s players “wanted it more.” He also said his team’s lack of focus in a hostile environment was part of the problem. Hollins is expecting the atmosphere to be even more challenging Saturday against the Boilermakers on their Senior Night.

“It’s going to be a packed house,” he said. “They play aggressive defense, so we’re going to have to match their intensity from the jump. At the end of the game, we need to say we matched their intensity no matter what the outcome is.”

Up next: at Purdue, 11 a.m. Saturday, Big Ten Network, KSTP-AM 1500.