The ninth-ranked Minnesota Golden Gophers close out a four-game homestand on Sunday night when they face off against Big Ten Conference foe the Northwestern Wildcats at Williams Arena.
Since starting the season with six consecutive wins, Northwestern has been on the down slope, having dropped five of its last eight games. The Wildcats most recently closed out a five-game homestand by getting dismantled 94-66, in their Big Ten Conference opener against No. 2 Michigan.
Minnesota's only loss this season came in the Battle 4 Atlantis Tournament in mid-November to now top-ranked Duke (89-71). Since then it has ripped off nine consecutive wins to rise all the way to No. 9 in the latest poll. The Gophers moved to 13-1 and a perfect 9-0 at home following their New Year's Eve win over Michigan State, 76-63.
In 153 all-time meetings, Minnesota has racked up a 92-61 advantage over Northwestern, which includes a 55-18 mark at home. The Gophers won the latest meeting, 75-68 in overtime, in the opening round of last season's Big Ten Tournament.
It was never really a contest in Northwestern's latest bout with Michigan, as it got down by double digits less than five minutes into the game and never got close from there. It shot a modest 40.7 percent from the floor and drilled 10 3-pointers, but it was a lackluster 8-of-17 from the foul line. Jared Swopshire and Kale Abrahamson each scored 11 points in the setback, while Alex Olah and Tre Demps netted 10 points apiece. On the season, the Wildcats have made good on 42.8 percent of their field goal attempts for 67.6 ppg, and they have usually been much stronger on the defensive end of the floor, allowing opponents to score only 61.8 ppg. Reggie Hearn (14.5 ppg, 5.5 ppg) is typically the go-to scoring option, but he's missed the last few games with a sprained ankle and remains doubtful for Saturday's matchup. With Drew Crawford (13.5 ppg) out for the season following shoulder surgery, NU will need to rely on bigger contributions from Dave Sobolewski (11.0 ppg, 4.4 apg), Swopshire (9.0 ppg, 5.9 rpg), and Olah (7.4 ppg).
Minnesota faced a big test in its conference opener against a very good Michigan State team and passed with flying colors, shooting a lofty 56.6 percent from the floor on its way to a 13-point victory. Andre Hollins was fantastic in the win, shooting 7-of-10 from the field and 7-of-7 from the foul line for 22 points, while also dishing out six assists. Rodney Williams scored 15 points, Austin Hollins had 12 points, and Trevor Mbakwe tallied a double- double with 11 points and 12 rebounds. The Gophers are one of the most well- balanced teams in the country. Not only do they score nearly 76 ppg and win the rebounding battle by 10 boards per contest, but they also hold opponents to just 38.1 percent field goal shooting for 59.8 ppg. Andre Hollins (13.6 ppg, 3.7 apg) and Rodney Williams (13.1 ppg, 6.1 rpg) share the load as the team's top scoring threat, with Hollins draining 24 3-pointers at a 40.7 percent clip and Williams swatting away a team-high 1.4 bpg. Austin Hollins (10.0 ppg) swipes more than two steals per game, and Joe Coleman (10.0 ppg) and Mbakwe (9.0 ppg, 7.5 rpg) round out the outstanding starting five.