GAME NOTES: The Minnesota Golden Gophers try to fix their recent road woes on Sunday afternoon when they pay a visit to the Iowa Hawkeyes for a Big Ten Conference showdown.
Minnesota began the season as one of the nation's hottest teams, rising all the way to No. 8 in the AP poll after a 15-1 start, but it has since taken a tumble in the standings with losses in six of its last nine contests. The Gophers most recently claimed a quality overtime win over nationally-ranked Wisconsin at home on Thursday (58-53) to improve to 18-7 (6-6 Big Ten), but they have lost four in a row away from home.
Much like Minnesota, Iowa saw plenty of success during its non-conference schedule, which has led to a solid overall record (16-9), but it has had a difficult time navigating through its conference slate (5-7). The Hawkeyes have generated some momentum of late however, winning back-to-back games over Northwestern on Feb. 9 (71-57) and at Penn State this past Thursday (74-72).
Iowa swept Minnesota in the season series during the 2011-12 campaign, but the Gophers had their revenge on Feb. 3 with a 62-59 win at home. Minnesota holds a 101-90 advantage over the Hawkeyes all-time.
The Gophers trailed at home to Wisconsin by as many as 10 points, but they hung tough and eventually forced overtime in the final minute on a pair of Joe Coleman free throws. They scored the first points in the extra session and never surrendered that advantage as they held on for the hard-fought win. Minnesota shot just 36.7 percent from the field in the defensive struggle, but it held Wisconsin to an even worse 30.5 percent. Andre Hollins was off the mark from the field (5-of-16), but he made 8-of-10 from the foul line en route to 21 points, while Austin Hollins (11 points) and Rodney Williams (10 points) were also effective. Minnesota's offensive attack has been stifled of late, as it has scored 62 points or less in six of its last seven games, but it still nets a stellar 70.8 ppg on 45.3 percent field goal efficiency this season. Andre (14.1 ppg, 3.5 apg) and Austin Hollins (11.2 ppg, 2.0 spg) are sound performers out on the perimeter, while Williams (11.8 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 1.4 bpg) and Trevor Mbakwe (9.6 ppg, 8.7 rpg, 1.7 bpg) do the dirty work on the inside. Rounding out the impressive starting five is Joe Coleman, who nets 9.5 ppg on nearly 48 percent shooting from the floor.
Iowa held a seemingly comfortable 12-point lead over Penn State midway through the second half on Thursday, and even though a 15-4 run by the Nittany Lions cut their deficit to just two with under five minutes to play, the Hawkeyes held without ever giving up the advantage. Iowa shot 44.4 percent from the field on the night, and was aided late by a solid effort at the foul line (20- of-26). Roy Devyn Marble finished with 22 points for his second straight 20- plus point performance, while Mike Gesell and Melsahn Basabe added 13 and 11 points, respectively. Despite ranking in the bottom-half of the league in field goal percentage (.425), the Hawkeyes boast the third-best scoring offense in the league (72.2 ppg) thanks in large part to their .714 free-throw percentage on nearly 25 attempts per game. Marble leads the way with 13.6 ppg, while Aaron White is hot on his heels with 13.4 ppg while adding a team-high 5.9 rpg. No one else averages in double figures, but seven others tally between 4.5 and 9.0 ppg.
Once one of the nation's elite, Minnesota now needs to make sure it finishes strong to ensure an NCAA Tournament bid. The Gophers' road record in recent weeks is worrisome, but they'll carry the momentum from their victory over Wisconsin into this matchup and take care of the Hawkeyes.
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