New York, NY – Vying for a spot in the finals of the 75th annual Postseason National Invitational Tournament, the sixth-seeded Minnesota Golden Gophers will try to topple the top-seeded Washington Huskies in a semifinal bout at Madison Square Garden.
Minnesota has won three straight games on the road against higher seeds and so enters this semifinal matchup battle-tested. The Golden Gophers topped third- seed La Salle in the first round, then routed second-seed Miami-Florida before downing Middle Tennessee in the quarterfinals to move into the team's fifth NIT Final Four. The win over the Blue Raiders was the fifth in six games for the Golden Gophers going back to the regular season and Big Ten tournament and gives them an overall ledger of 22-14. The Golden Gophers have a rich tradition in the NIT, sporting a 21-11 overall record (27-12 including vacated games in 1996 and 1998). The team won two championships in 1993 and 1998, although the latter was vacated due to an ineligible student athlete.
Washington is the only No. 1 seed remaining in the tournament and the only one to have advanced past the second round. The Huskies won in a shootout against Pac-12 rival Oregon in the quarterfinals as they came out on top of a 90-86 decision. Before that the Huskies had won by double digits against fourth- seeded Northwestern in the second round and eighth-seeded Texas-Arlington in the first round. Washington won the Pac-12 regular season crown, but failed to make the cut for the NCAA Tournament field, but now have an overall record of 24-10. This is the furthest the Huskies have advanced in six all-time appearances in the NIT.
This will be the 16th all-time meeting between these squads with Washington holding a 9-6 series advantage. These squads have not met on the hardwood since 1990. The winner of this game will take on either Massachusetts or Stanford for the NIT title.
Minnesota almost let the game slip away in the quarterfinals of the tournament against Middle Tennessee. The Golden Gophers allowed the Blue Raiders to score 14 points in under a minute, but four free throws in the waning moments preserved the victory.
Rodney Williams and Andre Hollins came up bug in the win, as the two tied for the team lead with 24 points apiece. Hollins (8.5 ppg) was not much of a scorer this season and he finished the season ranked fourth on the squad in that regard. Williams (12.1 ppg, 5.5 rpg) however, was the team's primary option and the only player to average in double figures. Williams also had 24 points in the quarterfinals and has had a strong postseason overall, averaging 22.0 points through the first three rounds of the tournament. Julian Welch (9.9 ppg) was held scoreless after finishing this season as the team's second leading scorer as he got into foul trouble. As a squad, Minnesota doesn't normally score at a very impressive rate, averaging 68.1 points per game. The team is more defensive-minded, allowing only 64.4.
There were 10 ties and 13 lead changes between familiar foes Washington and Oregon in the quarterfinals. The Huskies trailed at half 46-42 but took advantage of the Ducks' poor shooting (.385) in the second half and went 19-of-23 from the free-throw line to storm back and outlast Oregon in a game that had no shortage of scoring.
It's unlikely that Washington will put up 90 points again in this matchup but the Huskies may come close. On the year, the Huskies finished second in the Pac-12 and 28th nationally in scoring at 75.9 points per game. Defensively the Huskies aren't as strong, surrendering 70.1 points per game despite ranking sixth overall in the nation in rebounds (40.0 pg). A trio of young guards have powered the Huskies this season led by sophomore Terrence Ross (16.3 ppg, 6.4 rpg). Ross had a team-high 24 points in the quarterfinals. Freshman phenom Tony Wroten (16.2 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 3.8 apg) poured in 22 points and has had a very strong debut campaign, ranking second in scoring and assists and third in rebounding this season. C.J. Wilcox (14.3 ppg) is the team's third scoring option. Abdul Gaddy (8.1 ppg, 5.2 apg) does a good job running the offense, while Aziz N'Diaye (8.0 ppg, 7.3 rpg) anchors the frontcourt.