Redskins

With 4 straight losses, Minnesota's in a slump

201301261543566206207-p2.jpeg

With 4 straight losses, Minnesota's in a slump

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) Minnesota has developed a troubling pattern since hiring coach Tubby Smith: a midseason slide.

The Gophers are counting on a return home this week to help restore their rhythm and turn the current four-game losing streak into an aberration rather than a trend.

``It's mostly mental. We have to just keep having faith,'' center Trevor Mbakwe said. ``We all still believe we're one of the best teams in the country. Now we've just got to go out and play that way.

In six years with Smith, Minnesota has lost only eight nonconference games. Regardless of the quality of those early victories, the Gophers have always taken plenty of confidence and momentum into Big Ten play.

But whether the cause was injuries to irreplaceable players, disruptive off-the-court issues or simply tougher competition that exposed some flaws, they have always faded - be it in mid-January, early February or a late skid into tournament time in March.

The Gophers reached as high as eighth in The Associated Press poll, but they tumbled from 12th all the way to 23rd in the latest rankings released Monday after losing on the road last week to Northwestern and Wisconsin.

``Nobody likes to lose, but it happens. That's part of sports. We've got to fight through it as a team,'' swingman Austin Hollins said.

They had myriad chances to win both times, but a two-game total of 92 points and a pattern of untimely fast-break-squelching turnovers led to defeats that dropped their record to 15-5 including 3-4 in the conference.

One of their problems has been a lack of production from the reserves, but in the last two games starters Joe Coleman, Hollins and Rodney Williams combined for 27 points and together shot 9 for 39 (23 percent) from the field.

``I've got to be more aggressive, more vocal. It didn't help that I wasn't hitting any shots,'' Hollins said. ``I thought I did a decent job on defense, but at the same time that can always get better.''

Williams had a breakthrough season as a junior, but since Big Ten play began the kind of passive offense and inconsistent scoring that hampered him his first two years has returned to the court. He's one of the most athletic players in the country, but at power forward he's thinner than most of his opponents and has been getting bumped around. The Gophers tried moving him to the wing, where he played as a freshman and sophomore, some against Wisconsin.

``We know that he's a great player. People go through slumps like that. Unfortunately he's gone through a little slump, but I wouldn't be surprised if tomorrow he goes for 15 or 20 points,'' Mbakwe said. ``He's a competitor. I know he's been taking a lot of criticism. It's not all Rodney.''

Williams was unavailable to reporters after practice on Monday.

``Something's getting him off his game. That's one thing that always concerns me, just staying mentally focused and not letting one play affect you in another couple of plays,'' Smith said. ``I just think he needs to be more active going to the glass and creating more opportunities.''

Minnesota hosts Nebraska on Tuesday and Iowa on Sunday, and after a tough trip to Michigan State returns to Williams Arena for games against Illinois and Wisconsin. While the goal of a Big Ten title might be all but gone, plenty of time remains for the Gophers to re-establish themselves as one of the best in this stacked-as-ever conference and get in position for that elusive NCAA tournament win under Smith.

Smith has been sharply critical of his players after several of these recent losses, but this week his tone has been more upbeat.

``Our job as a coaching staff is to tell `em we love `em, tell `em how good they are and how much better they can be,'' Smith said.

He added: ``I still have a lot of confidence in them, if you're asking that question. We still haven't peaked yet. We have a lot of basketball left to play. We've got a lot to do. Nobody's happy when we lose. I know I'm not.''

---

Follow Dave Campbell on Twitter:http://www.twitter.com/DaveCampbellAP

Quick Links

In talking 2018 NFL draft, Doug Williams actually explained Redskins' free agency

usatsi_8167438.jpg
USA TODAY Sports

In talking 2018 NFL draft, Doug Williams actually explained Redskins' free agency

The Redskins spent modestly in 2018 free agency, and plenty of fans thought the team should have shelled out much bigger bucks. Talking with sources around the Ashburn facility, a prevaling notion became clear that the Washington brass believed they had a strong team in 2017, but they lost their chance to compete because of injuries. 

Well, the secret is out. Doug Williams said as much on Tuesday. 

"Coming out of Richmond last year, I liked this football team. I think we’ve got a tough football team, a smart football team. Some things you can’t control," Williams said Tuesday in a pre-draft media session. "We were very competitive up to a certain point, and when you have the injuries that we have, at a certain point, that competitive edge, you lose it because your best players are not playing."

Williams' words were true, and telling. 

First the true part:

  • In Washington's first five games of 2017, the team went 3-2. The Redskins only lost to eventual the Super Bowl champs Philadelphia and AFC West champs Kansas City. Washington only gave up more than 100 yards rushing once in those first five games, before rookie Jonathan Allen got hurt and the defense began to look much different. After Week 5, the Redskins only held one team under 100 yards rushing and finished the year dead last in rush defense.

Now the telling part:

  • The Redskins signed free agent WR Paul Richardson, and kept free agent LB Zach Brown. Beyond that, the team added inexpensive veterans in OLB Pernell McPhee and CB Orlando Scandrick. No splash moves, and recurring speculation that Washington was not offering top dollar to free agents. Bruce Allen acknowledged as much during NFL League Meetings when he explained that his team identified exactly how much they would offer free agents, their own and otherwise, and wouldn't go beyond that dollar figure. 

That means the focus of the offseason, at this point, is about this weekend's NFL Draft.

That also means the focus of the offseason, at this point, is not about Johnathan Hankins or any other free agent. 

"We’re going to deal with the draft now, and the second wave of free agents, if it’s somebody out there we feel like can help the Redskins,that’s what we’re going to do," Williams said. 

Throughout the offseason, Redskins fans wanted more action from their front office. It didn't happen, and Williams' basically explained why on Tuesday. The brass likes their team, and by default, expects better health and luck in 2018. 

When Williams talks about drafting the best player available, it's not just the typical NFL front office tripe. Right or wrong, the Redskins believe they have a team ready to compete in 2018, and any rookies that come in will only supplement that position.

"At the end of the day, I like this football team we’ve got. Like, last year when I walked out of camp, I thought we had a pretty good football team and I still feel the same way today," Williams said.

"At the end of the day, you get the best football player, and if that best football player is the guy that you want to plug and play, that’s all right. But if that’s the best football player that’s going to help your team overall, I think that’s the route you have to go."

<<<CLICK HERE FOR REDSKINS BEST DRAFT PICKS SINCE 2000>>>

Want more Redskins? Click here to follow JP on Facebook and check out @JPFinlayNBCS for live updates via Twitter! Click here for the #RedskinsTalk on Apple Podcastshere for Google Play or press play below. Don't forget to subscribe!

Quick Links

How the Caps won their first round series against the Columbus Blue Jackets

How the Caps won their first round series against the Columbus Blue Jackets

Things did not look good for the Capitals after two games.

Facing a 0-2 series hole after losing both games in Washington, it looked like it could be an early summer. The Caps were going to be the first team to ever lose a series in the playoffs to the Columbus Blue Jackets.

HOW DID THE CAPS WIN THEIR SERIES AGAINST COLUMBUS? FIND OUT HERE

But the Caps rallied.

Washington won the next four games and turned what looked like it would be another postseason disaster into a postseason triumph.

Only once in franchise history had the Caps rallied from a 0-2 deficit and only once had the Caps won four straight games to win a series. They managed both against the Blue Jackets.

Here's how the Caps were able to rally to a first-round victory over Columbus.