A 10-0 record and a national ranking for the first time in six seasons is nice, but the Minnesota Golden Gophers realize that none of that matters if they don’t continue winning.
Part of the Top 25 for the first time since Dec. 17, 2002, No. 23 Minnesota will attempt to tie its best start since 1976-77 on Tuesday night when it hosts Southeastern Louisiana.
The Golden Gophers are coming off a 70-64 victory over then-No. 9 Louisville on Saturday in the Stadium Shootout in Glendale, Ariz. It was Minnesota’s first win over a Top 10 team since defeating ninth-ranked Indiana 77-75 on Feb. 9, 2000.
Sophomore guard Al Nolen hit 13-of-17 free throws and scored a career-high 18 points to go with five assists and five rebounds on Saturday.
“This game really means a lot to us, but it’s just one game,” Nolen said. “We’ve still got to move forward to the next game.”
Nolen is averaging 6.0 assists per game - third in the Big Ten - while Minnesota is ranked 19th in the nation, averaging 17.5 assists.
Back in action after missing one game with a sprained right ankle, sophomore Blake Hoffarber hit 4-of-7 from beyond the arc and scored 15 points in 23 minutes. He’s shooting 52.6 percent from 3-point range in his last three games.
Golden Gophers leading scorer Lawrence Westbrook scored a season-low two points against the Cardinals, but junior Travis Busch helped compensate with career highs of 13 points and six rebounds in 25 minutes off the bench.
Minnesota’s stingy defense continued, holding Louisville to 37.7 percent shooting and one field goal in the last 3:54. The Golden Gophers are limiting teams to 38.1 percent from the field and 61.2 points this season. They’ll face a Southeastern Louisiana (6-4) squad, though, that is hitting 53.3 percent of its shots in the last six games and averaging 80.7 points this season - 24th in the nation.
While Minnesota goes for its 18th straight win at home over a nonconference opponent, the Lions hope for a better result than their last seven games against ranked teams - all losses by an average of 25.0 points.
In their last game against a ranked team, the Lions were defeated 63-50 by No. 6 Oklahoma State on March 18, 2005.
On Saturday, Southeastern Louisiana defeated Jackson State 70-51 as it limited the Tigers to three points in the last 5:39.
The Lions have held their last two opponents to a combined 37.6 percent from the field. Minnesota, meanwhile, is coming off its worst shooting game of the season at 40.0 percent.
“We knew this was going to be a big test for us,” Southeastern Louisiana head coach Jim Yarbrough told the school’s official Web site following Saturday’s victory. “They made a run in the second half and we kept guarding and made plays.”
Kevyn Green and Patrick Sullivan scored 18 points apiece against Jackson State. Green, the Lions’ leading scorer at 20.0 points per game, shot a season-worst 31.3 percent from the field versus the Tigers. For the season, though, he is hitting 50.7 percent.
The Golden Gophers won the only previous matchup against the Lions 63-61 on Dec. 30, 2006.