MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -- For the first time in eight seasons, Dan
Monson was nowhere near Williams Arena on Gopher game day.
He'll still get the game ball from Minnesota's latest win.
Lawrence McKenzie scored 20 points to help Jim Molinari win his
debut as Minnesota coach in the Gophers' 66-63 victory over Arizona
State on Saturday.
"Coach Mo said the first win we got we were going to sign the
ball and give it to coach," forward Spencer Tollackson said.
"Guys were feeling pretty good, but at the same time there was a
little bit of remorse. It was pretty bittersweet that coach wasn't
there and wasn't our leader today and probably never will be."
Dan Coleman added 15 points for Minnesota (3-5), which snapped a
five-game losing streak, but just barely, that ultimately cost
Monson his job.
Jeff Pendergraph had 19 points and 11 rebounds to lead Arizona
State (4-3), which nearly pulled out its second stunning comeback
in a week.
The Gophers led by 19 with 7:38 to play, but had fits with the
fullcourt press and went without a field goal over the final 5:22
to let Arizona State back in the game.
The Sun Devils scored 13 straight points to cut Minnesota's lead
to 63-60 with 52 seconds to play, and Jerren Shipp hit a 3-pointer
while falling to the ground with 25 seconds left that made it
After Coleman made one free throw, Shipp's long 3-pointer from
the top of the key was off the mark, snapping ASU's three-game win
"The mindset is, 'Why are we down by 19 in the first place?"
Pendergraph said. "And what can we do to prevent that from
Molinari, who was named interim head coach on Thursday after
Monson was forced to resign just seven games into his eighth season
as Gophers coach, breathed a huge sigh of relief as the buzzer
"Obviously we could've won it in a better way, but I think we
avoided a devastating loss," Molinari said. "If you don't hold on
there, then their confidence is really shot."
Overmatched in recruiting and when it came to coaching on the
court, Monson was unable to get the Gophers to rebound from a slew
of severe NCAA restrictions brought on by an academic fraud scandal
under former coach Clem Haskins.
The Gophers were embarrassed at home by Division II Winona State
in exhibition play and entered the day with the school's longest
nonconference losing streak in more than 40 years. The five-game
skid included defeats to Marist, Montana and Wednesday night's
90-68 loss to Clemson that ultimately sent Monson packing.
Athletics director Joel Maturi turned to Monson's top assistant,
the head coach at Bradley from 1991-2002, to try and salvage a
season that got off to a disastrous start.
Molinari, the "defensive coordinator" under Monson, received a
warm ovation from a sparse crowd upon being introduced before the
game and a few signs read "Let's Go Coach Mo" and "Mo-Mentum."
"It's a lot different having the whole pie rather than one
piece," Molinari said. "I understood what was going on when I
worked with Dan. I just tried to coach in the moment, keep going
possession by possession and then rely on my instincts."
Molinari's emphasis on defense was apparent throughout the game.
All five Gophers slapped the ground on defense throughout the
second half, a gimmick Duke has used for years to signify defensive
"Everything with coach Mo is defense," Jamal Abu-Shamala said.
They held Arizona State without a field goal for the first 5:28
of the period as the Sun Devils missed 14 of their first 17 shots.
McKenzie opened the second half with two 3-pointers and
Abu-Shamala added another to give the Gophers a 41-31 lead less
than 2½ minutes into the second half.
Unlike their victory against Iowa a week ago, when they
outscored the Hawkeyes 19-4 over the final six minutes and won on
Christian Polk's 35-foot heave, the Sun Devils couldn't finish off
another furious rally.
Polk scored 16 points on Saturday and Serge Angounou added seven
points and 10 rebounds for Arizona State.
In his first season in Tempe, coach Herb Sendek knows he's going
to see plenty of ups and downs with a young team that starts three
"Our team, right now, has little to no margin for error, no
matter who we play," said Sendek, who didn't think Minnesota's
coaching change had much to do with the outcome on Saturday.
Tollackson disagreed, saying the emotions of playing for Monson
"He text messaged me after the game and said 'Good job. I'm
proud of you guys," Tollackson said. "So obviously he still
cares. This win's a little bittersweet for me right now."