Minnesota spent the better part of the last few weeks of the regular season on the NCAA Tournament bubble.
But a strong finish not only put the Golden Gophers into the tournament but gave them plenty of momentum, as well — exactly what they needed to earn their first tournament victory since 2013.
Gabe Kalscheur scored 24 points to lead 10th-seeded Minnesota to an 86-76 victory over seventh-seeded Louisville on Thursday in the first round of the East Region at Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines, Iowa. The Gophers (22-13) advance to take on second-seeded and Big Ten foe Michigan State. The Spartans beat 15th-seeded Bradley 76-65.
Kalscheur was 5 of 11 from 3-point range as Minnesota made 11 triples, its second-highest total all season. Jordan Murphy and Amir Coffey scored 18 points each while Daniel Oturu and Dupree McBrayer each scored 13 for the Gophers.
Minnesota, in the NCAA Tournament after missing out last season, won its first tournament game since 2013 when it opened with a victory over UCLA. The victory Thursday was just the second NCAA Tournament win for the Gophers, officially, since 1990. Tournament runs in 1994, 1995 and the Final Four appearance in 1997 were all vacated because of NCAA violations.
“We were really locked in,” Minnesota coach Richard Pitino told CBS after the game. “For 40 minutes, we stuck to the scouting report. We disrupted them, we bothered them. We beat a really good Louisville team.”
Louisville (20-14) entered the game having won just two of its last seven games and could never seize the momentum against Minnesota.
Christen Cunningham scored 22 to lead the Cardinals while Steven Enoch scored 14. Darius Perry added 12 points while Jordan Nwora scored 10 and grabbed 11 rebounds.
Minnesota shook off a poor start from the field by making 10 of its final 14 shots in the opening half, taking multiple seven-point leads and getting a Coffey 3-pointer in the final seconds to take a 38-33 lead into the locker room.
Things continued to go well for the Gophers as they pushed the lead to 62-43 on three free throws from Kalscheur with 9:48 to play.
However, Louisville started to chip away and pulled within nine on a 3-pointer from Perry with 2:44 to play, cutting Minnesota’s lead to 76-67. Perry followed that with a drive and running layup to get the Cardinals within seven, but Minnesota got late stops and made enough free throws to put the game away.
“Get some rest,” Pitino told CBS when asked about what’s next for the Gophers. “Murphy’s banged up. Just get off our feet. That was a war, that was a long game. And then get excited about whoever we’re going to play. This is a really special moment for our team.”
The game also had some personal meaning for Pitino, whose father Rick coached Louisville for 16 seasons. He won a national championship with Louisville in 2013, though the title was later vacated for rules violations.
—Field Level Media