The Gophers entered the NCAA tournament on a three-game losing streak and a 5-11 record since early January. Smith was on the chopping block. They needed to string something together — fast.
Thankfully, that punching bag arrived packaged in golden and blue, neatly wrapped in the form of UCLA, with its own struggling coach — Ben Howland — and its own internal issues. All that led to a 83-63 Gophers drubbing, behind 28 points from Andre Hollins and 16 points from Austin Hollins.
Early Friday morning, star freshman Shabazz Muhammad and his father, Ron Holmes, were the centerpieces of a Los Angeles Times column that revealed Holmes had been lying about his son’s age. They told everyone that Muhammad was 19. He’s actually 20. Muhammad finished with a team-high 20 points, though he shot missed all six three-point attempts and, to cap off a forgettable night, rimmed out a meaningless layup at the buzzer.
Even so, both teams still entered with relatively impressive profiles. They each five top 50 RPI wins — Michigan State, Indiana, Memphis, Wisconsin and Illinois for Minnesota; Arizona three times, Missouri and Colorado for the Bruins. But both were vulnerable to head-scratching moments throughout the season. UCLA lost at home to Cal Poly and Southern California. Minnesota fell at Northwestern and Purdue.
Even when the Gophers bounded to an early lead, it didn’t seem safe.
As a #Gophers beat writer, you learn not to assume much from a 33-19 lead.
— Amelia Rayno (@AmeliaRayno) March 23, 2013
Given Minnesota’s early profile, this wasn’t considered a colossal upset. Nate Silver had them as a 61.9 percent favorite. Still, this was the program’s first NCAA tournament win since 1997. And any win is big for Smith and company, especially with No. 3 Florida up next.
As for UCLA, Muhammad’s almost certain to enter the NBA draft, even if it’s unknown how these latest personal developments will affect his status among scouts and front offices. But ever since consecutive Final Fours from 2006-08, the Bruins haven’t made it past the second round under Howland. His future might not be so bright.
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