Minnesota and Nicholls State will be meeting for the first time on Dec. 28 in Las Vegas, Nev. for game 1 of the Duel in the Desert at Thomas & Mack Center on the campus of the University of Nevada-Las Vegas. The Colonels, members of the Southland Conference, come into the matchup with a record of 4-8 and are led by junior forward Ryan Bathie and sophomore guard Michael Czepil, who are averaging 11.9 and 11.8 points per game, respectively.
The Gophers have only played three games against teams in the Southland Conference, defeating Southeastern Louisiana 63-61 last season, Texas-Arlington 90-62 during the 1999-2000 season and Texas at San Antonio 93-75 during the 1992-93 season. Coach Smith, while at Tulsa, defeated Southeastern Louisiana and Texas-Arlington in what have been the only matchups between a Tubby Smith led team and a Southland Conference team.
COLEMAN NAMED BIG TEN CO-PLAYER OF THE WEEK
Senior forward tri-captain Dan Coleman was named co-player of the week by the Big Ten Conference for games played the week of Dec. 17-23. He shared the honor with Illinois’ Shaun Pruitt. Coleman, who is averaging a team- high 14.3 points and 6.0 rebounds, becomes the first Gopher to be selected player of the week since Vince Grier was chosen by the conference on Feb. 7, 2005.
Coleman scored a game-high 20 points and added a career-high six steals in the Gophers’ 68-50 win over Santa Clara on Dec. 22, the team’s only game of the week.
The Gopher victory improved Minnesota to 3-0 all time vs. Santa Clara and 5-2 against the West Coast Conference. This victory also served as the 395th for head coach Tubby Smith, who improved to 3-0 all-time vs. the WCC and 2-0 against Santa Clara.
An attendance of 12,548 watched the Gophers/Santa Clara tilt, a season high and the largest crowd to watch the Gophers play at Williams Arena since 13,026 witnessed last season’s Minnesota-Ohio State game on Feb. 18.
Minnesota’s 68-50 victory improved the Golden Gophers to 8-1 on the season, one victory shy of equaling their win total for the entire 2006-07 season
At 8-1, Minnesota is off to its best start through nine games since the Gophers opened with the same record during the 2000-01 season.The 2000-01 team went on to win 12 of its first 13 before suffering its second loss of the seasons. Last year, the Gophers struggled to a 3-6 mark through nine games.
Santa Clara’s 50 points were its second fewest of the season. The Gophers have now held six of nine opponents to less than 60 points this year.The Broncos’ 18-point losing margin was also its second largest of the year.
The Broncos’ 26 turnovers were the most by a Minnesota opponent this season. Minnesota, by contrast, committed a season-low eight miscues. The Gophers’ previous season-low was 10 in the season opener vs. Army.
Minnesota’s 18-point victory was its sixth of the season by 15 points or more.
Dan Colman’s game-high 20 points marked the third straight-game that the senior has hit the 20-point plateau. He also collected multiple blocks for the fifth time this season and the 26th time in his career with three tonight while also logging a career-high six steals.
Coleman now has 1,052 points for his career, which ranks 30th all time in school history.
Lawrence McKenzie scored in double figures for the sixth time this season.
McKenzie also connected on three 3-point baskets and moved into Minnesota’s all-time top 10 for career 3-pointers made with 96, tying him with Townsend Orr (1991-94) in 10th. He also equaled his career high for steals with four.
Lawrence Westbrook dished out a career-high five assists and did not commit a turnover in 20 minutes of action.
COLEMAN Joins 1,000 point club; nearing others
Senior Dan Coleman became just the 34th player in school history to record 1,000 career points, thanks to a 22-point effort in the Gophers 91-74 victory over Colorado State on Dec. 8. Coleman added a season-high 24 points on Dec. 12 vs. South Dakota State and 20 points against Santa Clara on Dec. 22 and currently sits in 30th place on the career points list with 1,052. Mychal Thompson (1974-78) sits atop the list with 1,992 career points.
Also, Coleman is just 30 rebounds shy of 500 boards in his career. He will become just the 17th Gopher player with 1,000 points and 500 boards in a career. Michael Bauer was the last Gopher to join the club, reaching the milestone in 2004. Coleman also has 88 career blocks, just five shy of Minnesota’s top-10.
Minnesota’s bench has provided a big punch this season, outscoring its opponents in each of the team’s nine games. The Gophers hold a cumulative 286-122 bench scoring edge on its foes including a 30-1 advantage over Iowa State on Nov. 20, a 27-4 advantage over UC Riverside on Dec. 1, a 41-7 edge over North Dakota State on Dec. 3, a 44-27 margin against Colorado State, a 26-13 edge on Dec. 12 vs. South Dakota State and a 16-2 margin against Santa Clara on Dec. 22.
A Gopher has scored at least six points off the bench in every game, led by Blake Hoffarber’s 21 points against Colorado State. Damian Johnson and Kevin Payton both scored six points off the bench against Santa Clara to keep the streak in tact. Lawrence McKenzie’s scored 20 points off the bench against Iowa State; Johnson chipped in a career-high 12 points against Army; Hoffarber scored 12 off the bench against Florida State while Hoffarber and Johnson chipped in with 13 and 12 points, respectively, off the bench against UC Riverside. Al Nolen had 15 to lead the Gophers against NDSU, while Johnson contributed 10 points against South Dakota State..
WHAT A DIFFERENCE A YEAR MAKES
At this time last year, the Gophers were 3-6 but that is not the only major difference between the two seasons. Minnesota is averaging 13.4 more points per game this season (76.7-63.3) while allowing 6.7 points less per game (59.3-66.0).
Minnesota has relied heavily on its two freshmen, Al Nolen and Blake Hoffarber in the early part of the season.
Nolen is averaging 5.1 points, 3.7 assists, 2.4 steals and 20.0 minutes per game this season while shooting .520 (13-25) from the field. He has tied for or led the Gophers in assists in six of the nine games and has recorded 22 steals (2.4 spg), which ranks him first overall in the Big Ten. Nolen is also 10th in the Big Ten in assists at 3.7 assists per game.
Hoffarber is averaging 9.1 points off the bench for the Gophers this season and is shooting .475 (29-61) from the floor, including .440 (22-50) from behind the arc. He scored a season-high 21 points, hitting 6-of-11 three pointers, off the bench Dec. 8 against Colorado State. Hoffarber also came off the bench to contribute 13 points Dec. 1 against UC Riverside, 10 points against North Dakota State on Dec. 3 and nine points Dec. 12 against South Dakota State. The Hopkins native is fourth on the team in scoring and has the eighth-best three-point percentage in the Big Ten at .440.
STAT SHEET FILLER
Minnesota forward Damian Johnson has been filling up the stat sheet all season. The sophomore from Thibodaux, La. started the regular season with a bang, as he came off the bench to score 12 points, grab eight rebounds, block four shots while also stealing four balls, all career highs. He tied a career-high in points on Dec. 1 against UC Riverside while also grabbing seven rebounds, blocking three shots and stealing three balls. Johnson is fifth on the team in scoring at 7.6 ppg, third in rebounding at 5.1 rpg, tied for the team lead in blocks with 15 (1.7 bpg) and has the second most steals (14). His per game averages are all career-highs.