Gophers' stretch run continues vs. pesky Iowa
FEB 16, 2013 4:00a ET
But that overtime victory against the 20th-ranked Badgers will mean little if the Gophers can't build off of it the rest of the season. It starts Sunday when Minnesota travels to face Iowa, which lost by three to the Gophers earlier this month.
A loss to the Hawkeyes on Sunday would take away any of those good vibes Minnesota had after Thursday's emotional win.
"Now we just can't have any more letdowns," said Gophers senior Trevor Mbakwe, who scored eight points and had six rebounds in Thursday's win. "We have a tough Iowa team who took us down to the stretch the last time we played them. We've got to enjoy the win tonight but tomorrow we've got to refocus for Iowa."
Its win over Wisconsin lifted Minnesota back to .500 in the Big Ten at 6-6. It temporarily stopped the bleeding after coach Tubby Smith's team had lost two in a row and six of its last eight games. Due to that slide, Minnesota dropped out of the Top 25 rankings leading up to the game against the Badgers.
Following Thursday's win, the Gophers now head to Iowa with a renewed confidence that appeared to be lacking over the last several weeks.
"I think it will be a big boost to us," Smith said after the win. "We've lost some close games (but) you don't get a mulligan in basketball. I'd like to have a do-over, but we don't. So this is where we've got to build on tonight. We know we have to go down and play against Iowa. This league is pretty tough. It's the best league in college basketball."
The Gophers' remaining schedule is tough, but that's how life goes in the toughest conference in college basketball. After a trip to Iowa City, Minnesota will face No. 13 Ohio State in Columbus before hosting top-ranked Indiana at Williams Arena.
From there the Gophers face three of four worst Big Ten teams. Minnesota hosts Penn State, which is 0-12 in Big Ten play, before facing Nebraska and Purdue on the road.
"We feel like we can win any game the rest of the Big Ten season," Mbakwe said. "We've just got to go out and prove it."
It starts Sunday in Iowa against a pesky Hawkeyes team that led the Gophers by four in the second half of their game before ultimately losing on an Andre Hollins 3-pointer with 11.6 seconds remaining.
Since that loss to Minnesota, Iowa nearly toppled Wisconsin on the road but lost in double overtime. The Hawkeyes then went on to beat Northwestern by 14 and edged out Penn State by two points Thursday on the road. Iowa has been tough at home, nearly beating then-No. 5 Indiana to start the Big Ten season back in late December before losing by four to the Hoosiers. The Hawkeyes also fell at home to No. 22 Michigan State by three and beat Wisconsin by four points in Iowa City.
Minnesota's last — and only — Big Ten road win this season was back on Jan. 9 against then-No. 12 Illinois. Last year, the Gophers fell in Iowa City by four points. That loss was part of a second-half collapse by Minnesota that kept the Gophers from making the NCAA tournament.
Barring something drastic taking place in the final six regular-season games, the Gophers appear to be NCAA tournament bound in 2013. A win Sunday at Iowa could help Minnesota build off Thursday's win and springboard the Gophers to a strong finish in the rough and tumble Big Ten.
"We've just got to take every game from now as a big game. Now Iowa's a big game," Mbakwe said. "We don't want to have a game like this and have a letdown on Sunday against Iowa. … We still believe we're one of the best teams in the country. We had a tough stretch, lost to some good teams, but we knew we had to keep our spirits high."
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