Mathieu, Gophers break skid by finally finding way to win close game
FEB 08, 2014 11:52p ET
With Minnesota clinging to a two-point lead Saturday against visiting Indiana, Mathieu slashed into the lane and scored a layup with 11.6 seconds remaining to put the Gophers up by four. He later hit a pair of free throws to seal a 66-60 win for Minnesota, snapping a three-game losing streak.
"Man, we needed this one more than people thought," said Mathieu. "We couldn't lose four straight."
It was a big weight off the Gophers' shoulders after losing three straight games by four points or less. That skid began with a four-point loss at Nebraska and was followed by a one-point loss at the hands of Northwestern. Mathieu missed a last-second layup in that game as Minnesota couldn't escape the Wildcats.
One game later, Mathieu again couldn't capitalize on a late opportunity, nor could the Gophers close out a close game as they fell to Purdue in triple overtime. But with his family in attendance for the first time at Williams Arena, Mathieu knifed his way through the Hoosiers' defense and scored a clutch bucket.
"He misses the shot versus Northwestern. He misses the shot versus Purdue, and he comes back with the fearlessness and hits a huge shot basically to win the game," said Gophers head coach Richard Pitino. "I'm very, very proud of our guys. That was a great team win."
Even during their three-game losing streak, the Gophers believed they still on the same level as some of the best in the Big Ten. They proved that earlier in the season with wins over Ohio State and Wisconsin and played Michigan State tough on the road, taking the Spartans to overtime. Yet with three straight losses against teams some fans felt Minnesota should have beaten, the tune changed a bit on campus.
It's only one win, but given the Gophers' recent skid, it felt a bit bigger than that.
"It feels great to get the win, finally," said Minnesota center Mo Walker, who had 14 points and eight rebounds. "We had a couple close games, so it feels great to just do the little things and get this win. We got a couple big stops down the stretch."
Defense was an issue for Minnesota in its three recent losses. What was once a weakness turned into a strength on Saturday for the Gophers, who made big plays on defense when it mattered most. After committing just five turnovers in the first half, Indiana gave the ball away 11 times in the second half as Minnesota ramped up its pressure.
Gophers center Elliott Eliason had three blocks, several players had a pair of steals and Walker drew a charge midway through the second half to help fire up the Williams Arena crowd. Minnesota's big men kept Indiana's Noah Vonleh in check, while Mathieu and Andre Hollins made sure they didn't let Hoosiers guard Yogi Ferrell beat them down the stretch.
"Defensively, I thought we were tremendous and I thought that's what won us the game," Pitino said. "We turned them over, not just in the press but in the halfcourt. I have to give credit to my staff, they did a great job in scouting and we sniffed out a lot of their actions."
The last time the Gophers were on this court before Saturday, it was Mathieu and Walker missing point-blank shots in the final seconds as Minnesota fell to Northwestern by one point. Neither player was about to let another close game slip away as each was key in helping the Gophers hang on.
Prior to Saturday's game, Mathieu said he believed Ferrell was one of the few guards who could match his quickness. In the game's final minute, it turned out no one on the Hoosiers roster could guard Minnesota's speedy point guard.
"It feels good to finally get one to go down in the end," Mathieu said. "I'm one of those players that loves to take the last shot. I have the ultimate confidence in myself. It just feels good to finally get one to go."
There were quite a few Gophers dignitaries in the building as Minnesota pulled off the close win. Gophers football coach Jerry Kill and his wife sat right behind Minnesota's bench. Former Gophers coach Clem Haskins and members of the 1988-89 Sweet Sixteen team were also in attendance as they were recognized at halftime.
And just a few rows behind Pitino was his father, Rick, and his brother Ryan -- who dressed in a chicken suit after losing a bet. It's the second time the Louisville head coach has been at Williams Arena this year to watch his son, and Richard Pitino's Gophers are now 2-0 when his dad catches the action first-hand.
"I'm going to fly him up to Madison on Thursday," Pitino said. "I brag a lot to those guys about this place. I tell my father all the time about the Barn. . . . We're real proud of this place."
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