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February 9, 2017

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It’s been a productive several days for the Gophers basketball team including last night’s double overtime win over Iowa at Williams Arena.

Minnesota had lost five consecutive Big Ten games and had an overall record of 15-7 and league record of 3-6 going into last Saturday’s game at Illinois. It was near panic time for the Gophers to change their momentum in the next three games.

Done—almost. The Gophers defeated Illinois by nine points, won a thriller over Iowa, 101-89, and now pack their gym gear for Saturday’s game at Rutgers, 13-12 overall and 2-10 in the Big Ten.

Minnesota went into last night’s game ranked No. 25 nationally in the NCAA.com Ratings Percentage Index (RPI)—rankings that have much to do with determining who moves on to postseason tournaments. The Gophers have some quality wins, and the opportunity to earn more with seven Big Ten games remaining on the schedule, plus a chance to maintain or even improve a top 25 RPI ranking that for awhile now has had NCAA Tournament predictors keeping Minnesota in the mix. Hard to say what the final results will be but a possibility could be wins over Rutgers, Indiana, Penn State and Nebraska, and losses to Michigan, Maryland and Wisconsin. Such a path would result in a 9-9 Big Ten record, 21-10 overall.

Richard Pitino

Results as referenced above will keep the team’s RPI in good shape and should deliver an invitation to the NCAA Tournament. If so, it will be a first for Minnesota coach Richard Pitino who is in his fourth season with the Gophers and was 2-16 in the Big Ten last year.

After the season ends the Gophers may look back  on the Iowa win as a key to their success–close call that it was.  Minnesota was ahead 56-43 with 11:52 remaining in the second half. About three minutes later three consecutive turnovers against Iowa’s half-court trapping defense had triggered a 57-56 Hawkeyes’ lead.

Fatigue, though, hit the Hawkeyes as they tried to finish off the Gophers. Iowa freshman Jordan Bohannon couldn’t keep up with Gophers junior guard Nate Mason in the second overtime. Mason got key baskets as Minnesota outscored the Hawkeyes 17-5.

It was an emotional night for the Gophers and their fans. Pitino doesn’t like to do it, but he was waving his arms late in the game to engage the crowd. The student section saved its infamous “We Hate Iowa!” yell for second half dramatics, and at times Williams Arena rocked like its famous days a decade or two ago.

After the game Mason was asked if this win—important even if the Gophers were playing Rutgers—was at least a little more satisfying coming against border rival Iowa. “Yeah, for sure,” he answered.

Worth Noting

Iowa coach Fran McCaffrey has two sons, Connor and Patrick, playing for Iowa City West High School. That team plays at Cretin Derham-Hall and against Gophers recruit Daniel Orturu Saturday, February 18.

Dick Jonckowski

There is talk of an appreciation roast for Dick Jonckowski in the spring to be sponsored by the Minute Men. Jonckowski, the Shakopee-based speaker and emcee, is in his final season as public address announcer for Gophers basketball but will continue with U baseball games. He will be recognized by the Gophers at halftime of the Michigan basketball game February 19.

Ray Christensen, who died a couple of days ago at age 92, was known to sports fans as the radio voice of Gophers football and basketball for decades but he had varied interests including classical music. He preferred to work without a partner on basketball broadcasts and announced those games alone. He was a humble gentleman in an industry known for egos.

Better than Ground Hog Day to prompt optimism about spring arriving soon is that the Twins first exhibition game is two weeks from tomorrow in Fort Myers against the Rays. Pitchers and catchers report to spring training February 14, with the full squad coming in February 18.

Tallest player on the 40-man roster is 6-7 Michael Tonkin and the heaviest is 6-5, 290-pound Kennys Vargas. The oldest Twin is 35-year-old Ervin Santana, born December 12, 1982, while the youngest is 21-year-old Fernando Romero who was born December 24, 1995.

The Twins have announced another Hall of Fame class without Halsey Hall being included. His storytelling and baseball knowledge delighted Twins radio and TV audiences in the early years of the franchise. An obstacle is many Twins Hall of Fame voters aren’t familiar with Hall who died almost 40 years ago but is deserving of enshrinement. Fans who want to see Hall honored can send an email to Twins@twinsbaseball.com

Timberwolves second-year center Karl-Anthony Towns, who has the potential to be the best player in franchise history, has double-doubles in 31 of his last 34 games. Andrew Wiggins, the Wolves third-year forward and another potential superstar, has scored 20-plus points in 11 consecutive games.

The Minnesota Wild, with the best record in the Western Conference, has become a popular mid-season pick to win the 2017 Stanley Cup but that is a lot different outlook than before the season. For example, a June 18 article on Bleacherreport.com had the Wild’s odds of winning the cup at 30/1.

Coach John Anderson’s Minnesota baseball team begins its season February 17-19 at UC Irvine, then opens the home schedule February 24-26 against Seattle in the first- ever Gopher games in U.S. Bank Stadium. Tickets are on sale via Ticketmaster and at the stadium for 13 Gopher games to be played in the new facility through March 12.

Janesville-Waldorf-Pemberton High School in southern Minnesota soon breaks ground on a major upgrade to its football and softball facilities, and will be adding a new track. The project will include synthetic field turf for the football and softball fields, plus lights, scoreboard and concession upgrades. JWP has an enrollment of 199 in grades 9-12 and might be the smallest school in the state to install field turf.

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David Shama

David Shama is a former sports editor and columnist with local publications. His writing and reporting experiences include covering the Minnesota Vikings, Minnesota Twins, Minnesota Timberwolves and Minnesota Gophers. Shama’s career experiences also include sports marketing. He is the former Marketing Director of the Minnesota North Stars of the NHL. He is also the former Marketing Director of the United States Tennis Association’s Northern Section. A native of Minneapolis, Shama has been part of the community his entire life. He is a graduate of the University of Minnesota where he majored in journalism. He also has a Master’s degree in education from the University of St. Thomas. He was a member of the Governor’s NBA’s Task Force to help create interest in bringing pro basketball to town in the 1980s.

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