Saturday, November 10, 2007

It's now for real

After both teams finishing up their two-game exhibition schedule, the Minnesota Golden Gopher basketball teams opened their respective regular seasons with victories.

The Gopher women overcame a six-point halftime deficit and wore down visiting UC-Riverside to win 57-49.

"We got tired, " UCR coach John Margaritis admitted afterwards, "and Minnesota had something to do with it."

Four Gophers finished in double figures, led by Emily Fox's 13 points. Leslie Knight added 12, Brittany McCoy had 11, and Zoe Harper posted 10 in a reserve role.

Even though the winners held a 27-rebound edge, including 28 offensive rebounds, Minnesota (1-0) didn't dominate the Highlanders (0-1) -- they just wore them down. UC-Riverside came out shooting and at one point led by 10 points.

"They hit big shots," says Fox. McCoy added that the team's confidence was deflated as a result.

However, after halftime, UCR's shots fell short and Minnesota's overall strength finally took over. "Minnesota did a great job on what they do well," says Margaritis.

Korienne Campbell grabbed a game-high 11 rebounds, with Ashley Ellis-Milan and Leslie Knight added nine rebounds each. Zoe Harper snatched down six caroms.

"We were very aggressive going to the boards," adds U-M coach Pam Borton.

Defense and rebounding are the two most important keys for her team's winning games this season, Borton points out.

The following day, the Army-Minnesota men's basketball contest posted similar results but in a different way. The Gophers (1-0) were the quicker of the two in their 84-52 win, a contest that had both teams scoring exactly half their points in each half (Minnesota scored 42 points in each half, and Army, now 0-1, scored exactly 26 points in their respective halves).

U-M coach Tubby Smith was pleased with his first official win at the Barn. He especially liked his defense: "We are doing a good job on on-ball pressure," he says. However, Smith still want his players do better in defending away from the ball, and rotating better in switching and fighting off picks.

Although Minnesota held a seven-rebound edge over Army (43-36), the Gophers' glass work must get better, according to Smith. "We still need to improve in some areas," he simply says.

Senior forward Dan Coleman led U-M with 16 points. "My teammates did a good job in putting me in a position to get a good shot," he says. Damian Johnson came off the bench and added 12 points. Deflecting a reporter's praise for his performance, Johnson says, "There's not much to say -- we came out and played hard."

Some suspected senior guard Lawrence McKenzie's 0-for-5 performance, including misfiring on his three three-point attempts, to possibly still hampered by a sore groin, which kept him out of the team's final exhibition game and most of the week's practices.

"The groin is fine," McKenzie admits. Only scoring two free throws didn't faze him at the least. "It takes a team to win," he points out.

Neither victory by the two Minnesota clubs answer any lingering questions.

Despite their overwhelming rebounding advantage, the Gopher women didn't dominate their season-opening opponent: UC-Riverside early on went after Minnesota with their quickness, the Gophers' oft-questioned and long-standing weakness. On the other side, does the Minnesota men hoopsters have the type of backcourt that can match up with their opponents' -- dribble by dribble, shot by shot.

"Playmakers or not," says Coleman, who has confidence in his guards, "we have to focus on us."
The Gophers can't worry about others, adds McKenzie: "We need to worry about doing what we do."

Still, a win is a win: when basketball's dog days (February) rolls around, these wins for each U-M team will be one less they'll need to get.

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