Quick hit: Gophers turn it around

The Gophers often found easy access to the rim, hitting 50 percent of their shots. And Minnesota was on fire from beyond the arc, hitting 9-of-16 (56 percent). No doubt, UCLA missed injured star freshman Jordan Adams, as the Bruins had a short rotation. Still, Minnesota deserves credit.

This was an inspired effort by the Golden Gophers, who entered the game riding a three-game losing skein and losers of seven of the last 10 games. No matter, Minnesota lives to fight another day, as Tubby Smith notches his first NCAA win as Gophers coach after two one-and-down trips—2010 loss to Xavier; 2009 loss to Texas. Smith needed this for his job security. And, he got it.

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Key moment: This game had a sluggish start, with the game tied 9-9 at the 11:33 mark of the first half. But Minnesota found a groove and led 30-19 with 4:45 left in the first half. The Gophers led by 10 at intermission. UCLA trailed 50-41 with 13:24 left when the Bruins’ Tony Parker picked up a technical for swinging his elbows. That seemed to kill any last hope UCLA had. Minnesota pushed the lead to 66-51 with less than eight minutes left, limiting UCLA to 33 percent shooting.

Key player: Sophomore point man Andre Hollins played about as well as he has all season. He hit 8-of-16 shots overall and 5-of-8 from 3-point range to finish with 28 points. He also had four assists and nine rebounds with just one turnover. Where was this all season? Never mind. Just enjoy.

Key number: 19, assists for Minnesota, which showed how well the Golden Gophers moved and passed the ball. This attack was in synch and rhythm, especially in the second half.

What’s next: Minnesota will take on No. 3 Florida on Sunday with a spot in the Sweet 16 on the line. The Gophers last won an opening NCAA game in 1997, when it made a Final Four trip it later had to vacate due to NCAA violations. Smith will face Gators coach Billy Donovan, who served on Rick Pitino’s first Kentucky staff in 1989-90.

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About Tom Dienhart BTN.com senior writer Tom Dienhart is a veteran sports journalist who covers Big Ten football and men’s basketball for BTN.com and BTN TV. Find him on Twitter and Facebook, read all of his work at btn.com/tomdienhart, and subscribe to his posts via RSS. Also, send questions to his weekly mailbag using the form below and read all of his previous answers in his reader mailbag section.

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