Saturday, February 04, 2006

A Gopher Renaissance?

(photo caption) Zach Puchtel helped to breath fresh air into the Gophers' season with his tremendous effort against Indiana last weekend.

Columbus, Ohio--
It wasn't an upset of "Miracle on Ice" proportions, but the Gophers mens' basketball upset of #11 ranked Indiana last Sunday at Williams Arena may have been just as unexpected.

In trouncing the Hoosiers 61-42 last weekend, coach Dan Monson and the rest of the Gophers looked to set the tone for an improved second half of the Big Ten season. The first half saw a hugely disappointing 1-6 conference record and increasing calls for Monson's dismissal.

Monson's Gophers are out to prove that the Indiana result was not a fluke, and Ohio State may just be the team to catapult Minnesota back into conference respectability. The Gophers swept the Buckeyes last season, including a 60-56 overtime victory in Columbus.

The Gophers (10-8, 1-6) will tip off against Ohio State (15-3, 4-3) at 2 pm today in Columbus.

Monson, perhaps sensing employment insecurity or perhaps just grasping for straws, surprised the Williams Arena faithful by starting Harvard-transfer forward Zach Puchtel and walk-on freshman forward Jamal Abu-Shamala against Indiana, moving regular starters Moe Hargrow and Dan Coleman to bench duty.

Incredibly, the moves paid off. Puchtel, a senior walk-on, played much larger than his 6'6" 250 pound frame in containing the Hoosiers All-Conference forward Marco Killingsworth. Killingsworth, one of the Big Ten's leading scorers, was held to only 15 points in his matchup with Puchtel.

“Number 32 (Zach Puchtel) did a great job for Minnesota today,” said Indiana coach Mike Davis. “We had him in the scouting report, but we did not pay a great deal of attention to him. He did a great job guarding Marco (Killingsworth) today. A lot of times the guys who have guarded Marco this year have been dirty and fouled him to guard him at times this year. Give number 32 a lot of credit . He did a great job on Marco and he guarded him cleanly one-on-one very well.”

Jamal Abu-Shamala's contribution while in the starting lineup could not overlooked either. Though he scored only seven points on the afternoon, Abu-Shamala provided a much-needed outside threat for the Gophers.

Abu-Shamala, who may be the best pure shooter to wear a Gophers uniform since Voshon Lenard, has the ability to both create his own shot as well as getting consistently clear looks at the basket, due in large part to his rangy 6'5" frame and the high release point on his shots.

A Shakopee, Minn. native, Abu-Shamala is shooting an amazing 57% from the field and an equally ridiculous 51% from three-point land.

Recognizing his recruiting gaffe, Monson awarded Abu-Shamala a scholarship in December.

Both Puchtel and Abu-Shamala are expected to start again today against Ohio State in place of Hargrow and Coleman.


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