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Updated: January 26th, 2014 9:45pm
P.J.R.: Must we declare result in Nebraska a 'signature loss?'

P.J.R.: Must we declare result in Nebraska a 'signature loss?'

by Patrick Reusse

I went on a rare rant on Saturday Sports Talk after spotting several references that the Gophers' victory over Wisconsin at Williams Arena was a "signature win'' for Rich Pitino's basketball program.

It borders on the absurd to describe a regular-season victory for a college football program as a "signature win.'' I gritted my teeth and gave a pass to local media cohorts when the Gophers defeated Nebraska this fall at TCF Bank Stadium.

This was a substandard Nebraska team in the throes of defensive chaos, but it also was Minnesota's first victory over the Cornhuskers (an irregular opponent before 2012) in 50 years, so what the heck, call it a signature win.

I didn't even bother to remind the Gopher hard-cores of 2008, when our beloved rodents won as considerable underdogs at Illinois -- against an Illini bunch with much of its offense back from a humiliation of the Gophers a year earlier in the Metrodome.

That put the Gophers at 6-1 and was declared by many to be the "signature win'' for Tim Brewster's program.

Actually, the term used by Coach Brew was "program changer,'' which is one step above "signature win'' when it comes to the need in sports to put a label on a regular-season ballgame.

As it turned out, it was neither a signature win nor a program changer for Brewster. He went 8-18 from that point forward and in October 2010 became the first Gophers' football coach in history to be fired at midseason.

It is even more ridiculous to start declaring wins to be signature in college basketball, where the regular-season schedule runs 30 games, followed by a conference tournament, and unless you're a collection of complete stiffs, one postseason tournament or another.

So, you're going to take a random game as a 1-point underdog against a rival on a two-game losing streak and declare it to be the complete validation of Pitino's program before the halfway point of his first conference schedule?

That's what you're doing with the "signature win'' bluster, you know.

My question to Saturday partner Judd Zulgad was this: "If beating Wisconsin on Wednesday in Williams Arena is a 'signature win,' would a defeat at Nebraska on Sunday become a 'signature loss?' ''

"No, if fans like a coach, there's no such thing,'' Zulgad said. "There are only signature wins.''

My issue here was not the work the 32-year-old Pitino has done in his short stay in Minnesota. I would have hired Flip Saunders (who was willing until not hearing what he wanted to hear from AD Norwood Teague and assistant Mike Ellis), but so it goes.

Pitino is an improvement on Tubby Smith, and that's what matters.

My argument is with asinine labels - with the attempt to attach greatness, "a signature win,'' to a victory that was barely an upset.

Smith's team defeated No. 1-rated Indiana last Feb. 26 in Williams Arena. Was that a "signature win'' for Tubby - a sign there still was plenty of life in the old coach and his program?

Apparently not. He was fired five weeks later.

I'll concede the possibility of the signature-win label in college basketball. I even can identify the last one achieved by a Gopher's coach:

Clem Haskins, and the win over an extra-talented Syracuse team in a Sweet Sixteen game in New Orleans in 1990.

When young Pitino gets one of those, attach all the grandiose labels. Until then, realize that in a competitive conference with a crowded schedule, there's a good chance that for every "signature win'' there could be a "signature loss'' right around the corner.

The Gophers went from the glory of the Wisconsin victory to the game in Lincoln against a 1-5 Nebraska team on Sunday. The Gophers lost 82-78.

In doing so, they achieved the following:

Allowed the most points Nebraska has scored in its three-season, 46-game history in the Big Ten (including three games in the conference tournament).

Allowed 82 points to a team (and program) that had averaged 60 points in its prior six conference games this season, had averaged 57.2 points in Tim Miles' prior 26 games as coach, and 57.3 points in its prior 45 games in the Big Ten.

Signature loss?

Nope. Just a random result in a competitive league, as was the Barn victory over Wisconsin.


Patrick Reusse has been covering sports in the Twin Cities since 1968. He co-hosts SportsTalk from 3 p.m. to 4 p.m. and hosts The Ride with Reusse from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. weekdays. He also co-hosts "Saturday Morning SportsTalk" from 10 a.m. to noon on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
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