Golden Gophers Get By Bucknell in Season Opener

Posted: November 12, 2011 by Kodi in BBall, NCAA

Trevor Mbakwe helped propel the Gophers to a victory with a solid second half

The Gophers still had troubled defending and making three point shots

but all in all Minnesota started the season with a victory for the 20th straight season

These early season games often times are cake-walks for programs like Minnesota, giving teams like Bucknell a chance to play against Big Ten caliber teams. Bucknell however isn’t just your every day run of the mill season opening cake-walk, this is a team that was 25-9 overall last season and 13-1 in the Patriot League. Bucknell was the 7th best three-point shooting team in NCAA basketball last year and could have made a splash in March had it not been for their opening match-up against eventual national Champion Connecticut.

The Gophers have never met Bucknell before but they have played other teams from the conference and have an overall record of 6-1. Minnesota however haven’t lost an opening game since they were defeated y Arkansas in the 1991-92 season, over 19 years ago. Head Coach Tubby Smith has won 9 straight season opening games dating back all the way to his Western Kentucky days back in 2001-02. The Gophers have had a great record under HC Smith in the regular season against non-conference opponents going 40-6. They also have a phenomenal home record winning 53 games and losing 17 but has won just 27 games on the road and lost 36.

The Barn is a great home court advantage for Smith’s Gophers and Smith’s 80 wins at Minnesota are the most in the first 4 seasons of any coach. If Smith wins 20 games this season he will be just the 8th Gophers HC to reach the 100 win plateau. The most important factor for the Gophers are leading at half or scoring more than 70 points posting a 67-9 and 53-4 record accordingly. The Gophers lock the game away when they have the lead with 5:00 remaining going 74-8 under Smith. Minnesota has been flying under the radar but with some great freshman recruits and a couple of Juco transfers Minnesota is looking to surprise their doubters and improve from their second half struggles last season.

Minnesota started off hot jumping out to a quick 7-0 lead but Bucknell battled back to take a 17-15 lead with 8:31 left in the first half. The Gophers went on a 14-5 run to go up 29-22 but could never keep their foot on the gas pedal allowing Bucknell to cut the lead to 31-29 at halftime. Minnesota couldn’t get PF Trevor Mbakwe involved offensively until he made his first dunk with just over 4 minutes left and ended the first half with just 4 points. Mbakwe was named to the preseason First Team All-Big Ten, the 2011-12 Blue Ribbon Yearbook pre-season All-America Second Team and named to the Lute Olson Pre-Season All-America team.

In the Gophers 2 exhibition wins against Bemidji St. and Augustana Mbakwe led the team in most categories including scoring, 19.5, rebounding, 12, steals, 1.5,field goal percentage, going 13-15 and shooting .867, and was 13-14 from the free throw line shooting an impressive .929. Mbakwe had 13 points in the second half and had 10 total rebounds on the way to a 70-58 Gophers victory. Bucknell was very aggressive in their defense against Mbakwe and finished the game 9-13 from the free throw line. Bucknell Head Coach Dave Pauslen said that Mbakwe “is a terrific player. He’s bigger and stronger than our guys, we got into foul trouble just trying to keep him off the glass. He was just too much”.

Bucknell did have a 51-44 lead with 5:30 left in the game but Mbakwe helped lead the Gophers on a 22-5 run and seal another season opening victory for Smith and Minnesota. “We kept our composure, regained our balance and made some shots” Tubby Smith said and they did so behind Mbakwe and some solid defense. The Gophers held Bucknell to shooting just 34.8 percent from the floor but this game was much sloppier than Minnesota fans expected against a mediocre opponent and look for Smith to get the Gophers back to the tournament and win a game in March for the first time in 5 years.

The Gophers hoped to improve defending the three point shot, which they did holding Bucknell to 7-16 from behind the arc and to start making some three point shots of their own. The Gophers started Austin and Andre Hollins (no relation) at the Guard positions and they were a combined 3-10 from three point land and the Gophers were 3-15 as a team. Minnesota needs to gain some confidence shooting the long ball if they hope to challenge for a top stop in the Big Ten conference. Tubby Smith said “there’s nothing you can do but keep shooting” and Andre Hollins told reporters “it’s just a matter of keeping our confidence up. I know the shot are going to fall. We have some great shooters on our team”.

In the end the Gophers won the game and have a chance to go 5-0 to open the season because they don’t face a real challenge until playing at home against Virginia Tech on November 30th.



  1. Nice baller! I remember a couple years ago when he was in trouble in south Florida and we were just trying to get him eligible or ‘acceptable’. Now I know why, he’s a beast. I saw that last year. Baby Shaq when he dunks. Baby Oden when he blocks. NBA $ in the forcast, if they get their money right. I don’t want to mention another website while posting, but sports illustrated had Mbakwe as a top 15 player to watch. Very sick. Keep giving us the info from the barn.

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