Sunday, March 14, 2010
Gophers off bubble, couch pays the price
By ESPN.com staff ESPN.com
INDIANAPOLIS -- Minnesota did enough damage at Conseco Fieldhouse to warrant a berth in the NCAA tournament.
And even after learning they had made the field of 65, the Golden Gophers left their mark on this building.
Let's just say the couch in one of the suites at Conseco will never be the same again.
"We all jumped together," point guard Devoe Joseph said. "I think we might have damaged the couch in there."
Damaged would be putting it mildly.
"We did break the couch," shooting guard Lawrence Westbrook confirmed. "We were excited to see our name."
It was a sight that seemed highly likely on March 2, when Minnesota didn't show up at Crisler Arena and left with a 83-55 loss to Michigan. But the team that dealt with adversity all season long -- from Al Nolen's academic problems to the legal issues surrounding newcomers Trevor Mbakwe and Royce White -- refused to go away.
Minnesota won four consecutive games, three in dominating fashion, to reach Sunday's Big Ten tournament championship game. The Gophers ended up winning seven of their final 10 games, including victories against Wisconsin, Michigan State, Purdue and, not to be forgotten, fellow bubble team Illinois on the road.
But a 29-point loss to top seed Ohio State raised the tension level as the selection show began.
"I honestly had no clue," said Joseph, who made the All-Tournament team. "I didn't want to jinx it and say that we were out or whatever. I was just praying that we were in."
Joseph's prayers were answered as Minnesota appeared as a No. 11 seed in the West region, facing No. 6 seed Xavier on Friday in Milwaukee. Other than beating Ohio State on Sunday, things couldn't have worked out much better for the Gophers, who should have plenty of fans at the Bradley Center.
Players have followed the bubble watch throughout the last few weeks, and cringed as several bubble teams appeared on the screen.
"When Florida got in, we were kind of shaking a little bit," Westbrook said, "but hey, we're in."
Joseph, who took over the lead guard duties after Nolen was ruled ineligible, can't wait to lead the team to its second consecutive tournament appearance.
"It's been my dream since I was younger to play in the NCAA tournament," he said. "Once I saw our name come up, I was super happy. It's the same thing as last year. Maybe better this time."