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Finishing with a flurry

March 26, 2012


Andre Hollins.

Freshman point guard Andre Hollins led the Gophers with 20 points in their 68-67 overtime win against Washington in the NIT semifinals.

Photo: courtesy U Athletics

Gopher hockey and basketball teams hit stride in March

By Rick Moore

Ever since the Gopher women’s hockey team won the Frozen Four championship in Duluth on March 18, Minnesota’s hockey and basketball teams seem to all be on an irrepressible trophy hunt.

Perhaps most in the spotlight, the men’s hockey team will be making its own trip to the Frozen Four. The Gophers beat Boston University 7-3 on Saturday night, then downed archrival North Dakota 5-2 in the West Regional final Sunday evening at a raucous Xcel Energy Center. The decisive win over UND was a measure of revenge, coming a week after UND came back to beat the Gophers 6-3 in the semifinals of the WCHA Final Five Tournament.

The Gophers, who got goals from 10 different players in the two games, now travel to Tampa Bay for a Frozen Four semifinal matchup against Boston College on April 5.

Basketball success, at home and on the road

The men’s and women’s basketball team have also found post-season tournament success. For the women, it’s been a steady diet of home cooking in the Women’s Basketball Invitational Tournament. After home wins against Charleston Southern, Bradley, and Manhattan, the Gophers faced Northern Iowa in the championship game Sunday afternoon at the Barn.

Minnesota fell behind the hot-shooting Panthers by 13 points early in the second half, then staged a furious rally, at one point taking a 16-point lead before coasting to an 88-74 victory. The Gophers exploded for 56 points in the second half.

Excelling in the classroom

A total of 67 University of Minnesota student-athletes have earned spots on the 2011-12 Winter Academic All-Big Ten teams.

Sophomore gymnast Nathan Fortunato, a recreation resource management major, received special recognition as one of three winter-sport student-athletes in the Big Ten to maintain an unblemished 4.0 GPA. Read more.

Freshman Rachel Banham led five players in double figures with 26 points. She was named to the all-tournament team, and senior Kiara Buford (14 points) finished her career by being named the WBI’s Most Valuable Player.

“Our team showed a lot of character coming out and playing as far as what we did,” says head coach Pam Borton. “It is probably one of the best halves of basketball we played in a really long time on both ends of the floor. For us to shoot 68 percent in the second half and to defend the way we defended was absolutely outstanding.”

While the women were wrapping up their season, the men’s basketball team was getting onto a bus to embark on the last leg of its journey—to Madison Square Garden for the final two rounds of the National Invitation Tournament. The Gophers punched their ticket to New York with a 78-72 win at Middle Tennessee State on Wednesday, March 21. (Rodney Williams and Andre Hollins each had 24 points to pace the Gophers, who earlier beat both La Salle and Miami on the road.)

Minnesota’s run of good basketball continued against top-seeded Washington. The Gophers watched a large lead slowly evaporate in the second half, and the Huskies finally tied the game at 61 with 16.3 seconds remaining. But Andre Hollins, who has emerged as a leader as well as a shooter, scored five of his 20 points in overtime and the Gophers held on 68-67 for their fourth win in a row. Junior Rodney Williams added 18 points.

“I’ve been really amazed at how we have stepped up and really played—you know, we’ve got a lot of potential, but we still have guys that are growing and because they are so young, that’s why I’m so proud and so happy for them, because they have worked extremely hard,” said head coach Tubby Smith after the game.

Now it’s on to the finals of the NIT. The 23-14 Gophers will play 25-11 Stanford on Thursday, March 29, with the tip-off scheduled for 6 p.m.

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Update: Minnesota's run through the NIT came to an end March 29 with a 75-51 loss to Stanford in the championship game at Madison Square Garden. The Gophers finished the seasoon with a record of 23-15 and having won six of their last eight games.

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