After snapping a 20-game skid to one Big Ten foe, Minnesota hopes its momentum can break another lengthy conference losing streak.
The 19th-ranked Golden Gophers look for their first win in East Lansing in more than 18 years on Wednesday night against No. 13 Michigan State, which tries to avoid its first three-game home slide in 12 seasons.
Minnesota (18-3, 6-3) goes for its third straight win following a 59-36 victory over then-No. 19 Illinois on Thursday. It was the Golden Gophers’ first win against the Fighting Illini since Feb. 3, 1999, and their largest margin of victory over a ranked team.
“It was kind of embarrassing for a team to beat you that many times,” Lawrence Westbrook said.
There’s been nothing embarrassing with Westbrook’s play this season. The junior guard has scored in double figures in 11 straight games, and is averaging a career-best 13.9 points. In Minnesota’s 70-58 loss to then-No. 10 Michigan State on Dec. 31, Westbrook was one of two Golden Gophers (Al Nolen, 14) in double figures with 11 points.
Westbrook had just three points in 18 minutes in the Golden Gophers’ last visit to the Breslin Center - a 65-59 loss to then-No. 6 Spartans on Jan. 5, 2008.
Minnesota won in East Lansing on Feb. 14, 1996, and Jan. 4, 1997, but those victories were vacated due to the Golden Gophers’ academic fraud scandal. Their last official win at Michigan State, therefore, is a 79-74 victory on Feb. 1, 1990.
Minnesota, second in the Big Ten in field goal defense, held Illinois to 29.4 percent from the floor. It was the Golden Gophers’ best defensive effort since limiting Nicholls State to 25.0 percent in a 77-32 victory on Dec. 28, 2007.
Freshman Ralph Sampson III had 10 points and seven boards on Thursday as Minnesota won the rebounding battle 44-29. The Golden Gophers will likely face a much stiffer test on the boards against a Michigan State team that is averaging a conference-best 39.9 rebounds.
“Hopefully we can build off this,” said Minnesota coach Tubby Smith, 2-7 against Michigan State.
The Spartans are third in the Big Ten, shooting 46.7 percent, and are scoring a league-high 75.5 points per game, but in their last three contests, opponents are shooting a combined 50.7 percent from the field.
The Spartans (17-4, 7-2) dropped their second straight at the Breslin Center on Sunday, 72-68 to Penn State. The last time Michigan State lost three in a row at home was Jan. 22-Feb. 8, 1997.
“You win at home because you work,” said Spartans coach Tom Izzo, 17-7 in his career versus Minnesota. “You don’t win at home because you’re supposed to. It’s an entitlement society, and I think our players kind of feel that way.”
Leading scorer Kalin Lucas posted his fourth straight 20-plus-point game with 23 against the Nittany Lions. The sophomore guard is averaging 21.8 points, 3.3 assists and 3.3 boards as the Spartans have split their last four games.
Lucas is scoring 17.7 points per game and shooting 50.0 percent in three career games against the Golden Gophers.
After playing 11 combined minutes in the last two games, Raymar Morgan will miss Wednesday’s game with walking pneumonia. Izzo said on Monday that the junior forward will most likely be sidelined all week.
Michigan State has won four in a row and nine of 10 against Minnesota.