Saturday, January 26, 2002

Minnesota hoping to defend better against Ohio State

Buckeyes holding opponents to just 58 points a game

AP Sports Writer

        MINNEAPOLIS — Dan Monson has done the math. Minnesota's coach knows what will have to happen for the Golden Gophers to beat Ohio State.

        “They're so solid defensively that we've got to make sure we can score,” Monson said. “They're only allowing 58 points a game. We're giving up 70 a game. So for us to win, something's got to give.”

        The No.20 Buckeyes bring a 13-game Big Ten winning streak to today's game at Williams Arena. Before its 69-47 victory over Michigan on Thursday, Ohio State ranked seventh in the nation in scoring defense — 58.7 points a game. The Buckeyes (15-2, 6-0) have won nine straight games overall and are alone in first place in the conference.

        Things are going so surprisingly well for the Buckeyes that even coach Jim O'Brien wasn't opposed to a little celebration.

        “I don't want it to be fool's gold, but they have a right to feel good about themselves at this stage,” O'Brien said of his players. ... I don't think we're cocky. I don't want our guys to be cocky. We have to be realistic about what's ahead. But they think they can play with a lot of teams right now.”

        Ohio State's fate in the Big Ten race will be decided over the next four weeks, an eight-game stretch that includes a Tuesday matchup at home with No.9 Illinois and four straight road games from Feb.6-20 — Wisconsin, Michigan State, Iowa and Indiana.

        Minnesota (10-7, 3-3) probably will have to win at least seven of its remaining 10 conference games to avoid another NIT appearance.

        The Gophers have had a week to think about the way they fizzled away a victory last Saturday. A driving jumper by Michigan's Bernard Robinson with three seconds left gave the Wolverines a 71-69 win after they rallied from 10 points down with 6:16 left.

        Beating the Buckeyes today would give the Gophers a big boost.

        “It's a game we can win,” said guard Kevin Burleson. “We're playing against a good team, but I think a lot of players are disappointed in themselves by the way they played against Michigan. We feel like we didn't compete like we should have in the last five minutes.”
       “I think it's a good time for us to fix things and get some practice time together with each other instead of worrying about other teams so much,” Burleson said. “I think it will help us.”

        Again, Monson reiterated, the key to a Gophers victory on Saturday is simple.

        “Either our defense has got to get markedly better or we're going to have to get the tempo up and get some baskets in this game to win,” Monson said. “We're working on both ends of the floor, hoping we can kind of bridge those gaps.”


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