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Saturday, March 13, 2010
Gophers, Boilers put best, worst on display

By Adam Rittenberg

INDIANAPOLIS -- Minnesota is showing this week that there's always time to put your best foot forward.

The Gophers' three-game run at the Big Ten tournament is their best stretch of the season, hands down. They beat Michigan State on Friday for the first time since 2006. They have reached the tournament championship game for the first time in team history.

Devron Bostick
Minnesota and Purdue are heading in opposite directions leading into the NCAA tournament.
All new goals, achieved just in the nick of time.

Coach Tubby Smith called the first 20 minutes of Saturday's semifinal matchup against Purdue "as good a half as I've been a part of." He's been a part of quite a few.

After Minnesota stomped No. 2 seed Purdue 69-42 to advance to the tournament championship game, forward Paul Carter said, "This is when you want to peak, right now, this time of the year."

Purdue might cringe at Carter's statement. Not because it's wrong, but because it's true.

And the Boilermakers definitely didn't peak Saturday. In fact, the 27-point loss was their worst since an 85-58 loss at Indiana on Jan. 10, 2007.

Their 11 first-half points marked the lowest in Big Ten tournament history, and Purdue's lowest since at least 1950. Purdue had a 12-point first half against Michigan State in the first round of the 2003 Big Ten tournament.

"They had a great day, and we had a bad day," Painter said. "I look at it as, we need to burn that tape and forget about it."

Unfortunately for Purdue, the NCAA tournament selection committee is going to be setting any fires on the 15th floor of the Westin Hotel a few blocks from here. They watched Saturday's debacle, and it's the final time they'll see Purdue before finalizing the selections.

The Boilers certainly wanted to leave a better lasting impression on a group that must evaluate them without star forward Robbie Hummel. Purdue has gone 4-2 since Hummel's season-ending knee injury: wins against Indiana, Minnesota, Northwestern and Penn State, and losses to Minnesota and Michigan State. The Boilers averaged only 43 points in the losses. They were outrebounded 50-26 on Saturday.

There was fear of another key injury as starting guard Lewis Jackson hobbled off the court in the second half. A Minnesota player stepped on Jackson's surgically repaired left foot, but the prognosis is favorable.

"[The trainers] didn't think it was something where he couldn't come back and play here this week," Painter said.

So, how should the committee size up Purdue?

"They have to evaluate us really for where we are in terms of the guys on our roster and the guys that are currently playing," Painter said. "We're a good basketball team. Obviously, we're not better at this point than when Rob Hummel was playing. ... But we can't control that. We've got to go out and play and not make excuses. Our guys figured out a way to win the Big Ten without him.

"They have to evaluate us in our current state, and we understand that."

Purdue no longer has time to showcase itself to the committee. Minnesota, on the other hand, is just getting started.

Walking through the bowels of Conseco Fieldhouse, Minnesota athletics director Joel Maturi said he'd be "shocked" if the Gophers weren't into the NCAA tournament after the Purdue win. Minnesota can put any remaining doubts to rest by beating Ohio State on Sunday.

"We don't want to leave that to chance," guard Lawrence Westbrook said. "We want to get a win [Sunday], so we're 100 percent in the tournament."