MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -- Minnesota found itself in a similar position
four days after blowing a 14-point lead -- but this time the Gophers
used a different approach to achieve a better result.
Freshman point guard Rico Tucker scored 15 points and dished out
five assists as Minnesota bounced back from a loss to Florida State
with a 72-56 victory over Holy Cross on Saturday.
Still smarting from the way they folded down the stretch against
the Seminoles, the Gophers (3-3) led by 11 with seven minutes to
play against Holy Cross. But instead of sitting on the ball and
trying not to lose as they did on Tuesday, Tucker said the Gophers
were intent on finishing the job.
"Everybody looked at each other in the huddle and we knew we
had to go ahead and close this one out," he said. "If you can
make one last surge against a team on the road you can break their
backs, so we just tried to keep up the defensive intensity and make
Tucker played his best game so far for Minnesota, going 4-of-5
from 3-point range and keeping a firm hand on an offense that
faltered down the stretch against Florida State.
"That was the first time that I've trusted Rico to play the
last five minutes of a game," Minnesota coach Dan Monson said,
"and I wish in hindsight that maybe he was in there at the end of
the Florida State game."
Junior-college transfer Vincent Grier scored 16 of his 19 points
in the first half as Minnesota used a 17-0 run to take a 39-28
Trailing 16-12 midway through the first half, Minnesota blanked
Holy Cross for more than seven minutes to take a 29-16 lead. Grier
had 10 points during the run, converting three fast-break baskets,
and Tucker hit a pair of 3-pointers.
For the game, the Gophers shot 63 percent from the floor,
including 15-of-23 in the first half, when many long outlet passes
by Tucker and his backcourt mates set up a handful of easy baskets.
"We practice it every day, and it's like second nature," Grier
said. "I feel it's my duty and obligation to get it wherever it's
at. They found me in transition and buckets came."
"I think anyone can connect with Vince, the way he runs the
court," Tucker said.
Holy Cross (3-2) was holding opponents to 36 percent shooting
from the floor this season, but the Crusaders had no answer for
Minnesota's dynamic performance on Saturday.
"It's tough to win a game when a team shoots 63 percent," Holy
Cross coach Ralph Willard said. "They got a lot of easy baskets as
a result of us gambling (on defense). That's not what we're
supposed to do. That's not what we're good at."
Kevin Hamilton led the Crusaders (3-2) with 22 points on 4-of-5
shooting from the 3-point line. But Holy Cross shot just 36 percent
as a team for the game.
"We let down defensively in the first half," Hamilton said.
"Our transition defense was horrible, and it decided the game.
We're a better team than we displayed."
Brent Lawson scored nine of his 11 points in the second half for
the Gophers, who never let the Crusaders get closer than eight
Senior Jeff Hagen, who missed practice time this week with a
foot injury, chipped in 12 points and five blocked shots for
Minnesota. Freshman Spencer Tollackson made his first start for the
Gophers, scoring seven points and grabbing six rebounds. Tollackson
started quickly, scoring two of the Gophers' first three baskets,
and provided energy on the boards and under the hoop.
Monson said he hopes the freshmen Tucker and Tollackson will
contribute more as the Big Ten season approaches.
"(Tucker) and Tollackson are very naive in that they have this
ability where they think they can do everything on the court,"
Monson said. "We want to harness that, but we don't want to beat
the will out of them either because they're so confident and
aggressive. They are like a fresh breath for us."