Tubby says Gophers 'are not a great team,' but praises resilience
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MINNEAPOLIS -- For a minute there in the second half of a 69-59 victory over the Iowa Hawkeyes at Williams Arena on Sunday night, it felt like the Gophers men's basketball team was suffering through a case of ACC/Big Ten Challenge déjà vu.
Much like they did on November 29 against Virginia, the Gophers saw a double-digit halftime lead evaporate at the start of the second half due in large part to lackadaisical, lazy play against an inferior opponent.
Instead of mashing down on the accelerator, the Gophers (14-4, 3-3) dozed off at the wheel, allowing Iowa (7-10, 0-5) to go on an 11-2 run in the first four minutes of the second half.
The most glaring error, among several, was when Hawkeye guard Bryce Cartwright stole a Ralph Sampson III inbounds pass for a layup, giving Iowa four points in seven seconds to cut the lead to 30-23.
The Hawkeyes went on to tie the game at 32-32, then took a 35-34 lead before the Gophers eventually pulled away in the final 10 minutes.
"Concentration started to wane a little bit," Tubby Smith said about his team letting Iowa make a second-half run. "Guys missed easy baskets, or a lazy pass, they shoot the gap and get back-to-back scores like they had, you could tell that we were a little bit... I don't know what we were."
The Gophers are a difficult group to gauge - a squad that discriminates very little when it comes to playing grind-it-out games, regardless of the opponent.
Let's just call Sunday's performance par for the course.
"That's kind of the story of the year," said Trevor Mbakwe, who led the Gophers with 16 points and 12 rebounds on Sunday. "We play in spurts, so that's something we still have to get better at."
Since losing to Virginia in late-November, the Gophers have played grinder games against almost every opponent - from bottom-feeding Iowa to No. 2 Ohio State, bottom-feeding Indiana to a ranked Wisconsin team. South Dakota State and Cornell as well. It doesn't seem to matter.
But wins are wins, especially for a team that started 1-3 in conference play after letting a couple winnable road games slip away. Not to mention the off-court distractions as of late.
"We showed a lot of poise to just not panic," Smith said about Sunday's second half. "That's the good thing about this team. We've been down, we've been up.
"We're OK, but we're not a great team that can just close you out. We don't have the depth anymore to just keep the hammer down."
The Gophers' next game comes Saturday at Michigan (11-7, 1-4).
Newsflash: Expect a close one.