MINNEAPOLIS -- Christian Watford went his last two games without making a basket. So Indiana coach Tom Crean told him to stay focused on his defense.
The Hoosiers confidently followed their plan to an important road victory, showing the kind of poise that's been eluding Minnesota for weeks.
Watford rediscovered his shooting stroke with 12 points for Indiana (No. 24 ESPN/USA Today, No. 23 AP), and the Hoosiers blew out the sputtering Gophers 69-50 on Sunday.
"Our guys were locked in," Crean said. "They were very focused."
Victor Oladipo and Jordan Hulls each scored 12 points themselves, and Verdell Jones III added 11 points off the bench for Indiana (22-7, 9-7 Big Ten), which held the Gophers to a season-low score and went 21 for 25 at the free-throw line. That's exactly what Crean wanted, plus a relentless approach to rebounding.
"When you get away from what your concerns are and you stay with what really, really matters, it's amazing what works out," Crean said.
Watford was 0 for 13 from the floor over the last two games, but he knocked down a pull-up jump shot and a 3-pointer in the first half. He only pulled the trigger four times, but he was 7 for 7 from the line and grabbed six rebounds. Oladipo had eight boards for Indiana, which kept pace with Purdue and Wisconsin in the scramble for fourth through eighth place. Hulls, who went 3 for 11 over his last three games, hit a pair of 3-pointers and finished 4 for 8 from the field.
But, again, the proof of this success was in the defense.
"We got a lot of stops in a row and we were able to rebound the ball, push it and run our offense the way we wanted to," Hull said. "It was good for us that way."
The Gophers (17-12, 5-11) won 77-74 at Assembly Hall when the Hoosiers were seventh in the Associated Press poll six weeks ago, a potentially season-changing victory that softened the sting of an 0-4 start in the conference. But their performance this afternoon was nothing like that night.
"I think we had a big sense of urgency this game, a sense of urgency just to execute our plays and get stops and get a lead," Oladipo said. "They got us at our place. We always had that in the back of our mind."
The Hoosiers raised their Big Ten road record to 3-6 by holding the Gophers to 31 percent shooting, by far their lowest rate this season. Watford frequently defended freshman point guard Andre Hollins, who picked up two quick fouls and fouled out in only 16 minutes of playing time. Oladipo stifled power forward Rodney Williams in the post.
"It kind of helps me get going a little bit. That's what I've got to do, be able to guard multiple positions," Watford said.
That loss to Minnesota on Jan. 12 started a slide of five defeats in seven games, but Indiana has recovered at least enough to have a little momentum entering March. The Hoosiers host conference leader Michigan State on Tuesday. They haven't beaten a ranked team since Jan. 5, after they took down Kentucky, Ohio State and Michigan in the span of a month, but they're now guaranteed to finish at least .500 in the Big Ten after going 8-46 over Crean's first three years.
They got this victory despite a quiet game from leading scorer Cody Zeller, who had seven points on 3 for 8 shooting.
"Just shows you how deep we are and how we're all capable of playing if we put our mind to it," Oladipo said.
Austin Hollins had 14 points for the Gophers, who lost their fifth straight game. This was the lowest score against Indiana in a conference game this season. The Hoosiers gave up 54 points to Penn State last month.
"I think it's just a matter of going out there and playing hard every second you're on the floor, because they came at our necks and I guess they wanted it more," said Hollins, the only Gophers player with more than six points.
Minnesota carried the body language of a defeated team, failing to secure the ball in crowds or get to the loose ones quickly enough. They didn't get back on defense or cut off the back-door cuts consistently. Williams winced routinely when he held his hand up in the post and didn't get the ball; he didn't attempt a single shot in the first half and finished with three points. Coach Tubby Smith said he wasn't mentally engaged enough.
Senior Ralph Sampson III went 1 for 11 from the field, his worst career shooting performance in any game with five or more attempts.
"We didn't show that spirit, that fight that you have to have," Smith said.