Gophers hope to stop slide in Big Ten clash with Wildcats

Facing its third straight ranked opponent, the Northwestern Wildcats play host to No. 12 Minnesota at Welsh-Ryan Arena on Wednesday night.

Minnesota is having a tremendous season, Tubby Smith's crew sporting a 15-3 record overall. The start of Big Ten Conference play has brought about tougher competition though, as was certainly to be expected, and the Golden Gophers have won three of their first five league bouts. Unfortunately, the two losses have come in their last two outings, against ranked foes Indiana (88-81) and Michigan (83-75).

Since starting Big Ten play 0-2, Northwestern has alternated wins and losses in its last four games. The Wildcats recently dropped a 67-59 decision to visiting Indiana, and that came on the heels of a 68-54 win at No. 23 Illinois three days prior. Despite its favorable overall record (11-8), NU is just 6-7 at home this season.

Minnesota owns a 93-61 lead in the all-time series between these two long-time conference rivals, and the Golden Gophers were victorious in the first meeting this season, 69-51, in Minneapolis on Jan. 6.

The Wildcats have won the last four meetings in Evanston.

Minnesota's leading scorer is Andre Hollins (14.3 ppg, 3.7 apg), and he gets considerable help from guys like Rodney Williams (12.4 ppg, 5.8 rpg), Austin Hollins (11.5 ppg) and Joe Coleman (10.6 ppg). The team as a whole generates 76.2 ppg, while the opposition nets an average of 62.6 ppg. Minnesota outshoots its foes (.471 to .363), and is nearly 10 rpg better as well (40.2 rpg to 30.4 rpg). Austin Hollins scored 21 points and added four steals, and Trevor Mbakwe logged a double-double with 13 points and 10 rebounds, but those efforts weren't enough to push the team past Michigan late last week, as the Wolverines shot 54.9 percent from the field, draining 10-of-20 3-point attempts along the way. Minnesota shot 48.1 percent from the floor, and also made half of its long-range tries (8-of-16), but 15 turnovers proved costly as Michigan turned them into 24 points.

Not exactly and offensive juggernaut, Northwestern is averaging 65.5 ppg in hitting 42.1 percent of its field goal attempts, including 37.0 percent of its 3-point tries. The team boasts just two active double-digit scorers in the form of Reggie Hearn (14.5 ppg, 4.6 rpg) and Dave Sobolewski (11.3 ppg, 4.4 apg), although Jared Swopshire (9.3 ppg, 6.0 rpg) is close to joining the ranks. Defensively, the Wildcats allow just 62.1 ppg, with foes knocking down a mere 41.5 percent of their total shots, which includes a 33.9 percent showing beyond the arc. NU is routinely being beaten on the boards (-3.5), but owns a positive differential in turnovers (+2.0). Hearn led all scorers with 22 points in the recent loss to Indiana, as the Wildcats shot 40.8 percent from the floor compared to 47.6 percent for the Hoosiers. While both teams took exceptionally good care of the basketball, (six turnovers each), IU easily won the rebounding battle (36-24).