Big Ten

Minnesota's turnaround continues to be remarkable, and Gophers want you to know: 'We're not done yet'

Minnesota's turnaround continues to be remarkable, and Gophers want you to know: 'We're not done yet'

WASHINGTON — After Minnesota lost 23 games a season ago, there wasn't much preseason love for the Golden Gophers.

Even after a 12-1 non-conference season, a run in the Big Ten — where they were 2-16 last year — seemed a tough ask. A five-game losing streak didn't help that perception.

But then the Gophers rattled off eight straight wins and knocked off perennial March powerhouse Michigan State in the Big Ten Tournament on Friday afternoon.

If you're surprised, maybe you haven't been paying attention over the last month and a half. If you weren't, your name might've been Reggie Lynch.

"We knew we were going to be a great team before the season even started," said Lynch, Minnesota's big man and the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year, after Friday's win. "As the season has gone on, we knew we were going to be one of the better teams. We're trying to climb to the highest seed we could get.

"It's really just been a great year. We're not done yet."

Friday's win in the conference tournament perhaps more than anything besides that flipped record — from 8-23 last season to 24-8 this season — underlined how incredible this turnaround has been.

In last season's Big Ten Tournament, Minnesota was squashed, losing by more than 30 points to an Illinois team that didn't even sniff the NCAA tournament bubble. This season, it's a double bye and a win over Michigan State to reach the semifinals.

"There was nothing more demoralizing than going to a conference tournament last year with three players suspended (and) Joey King (injured with a) broken foot. I walked out of the elevator today, there was our band, our cheerleaders. I don't remember anyone there playing songs last year," Pitino said. "Maybe they did, I don't know. I might have gone out the backdoor.

"So this is what March is supposed to be all about. We did believe we would be a good team. We just felt like we were going to have to eat crow for a little while, for a couple months. Internally we believed that we were really going to make a huge jump. Our guys have shown that. I mean, we've won nine of 10 in this conference. We won eight in a row. That's pretty special."

For those who have been paying attention, Minnesota's win Friday was hardly unexpected. The Gophers have been among the conference's best teams this season and especially since the start of February. They've lost just one time since.

But the talk in Saturday's semifinal with Michigan will likely be all about the Wolverines. After all, that's a heck of a story, what with Michigan enduring that aborted-takeoff nightmare on Wednesday before winning twice in two days here in Washington, including Friday's upset of top-seeded Purdue.

But Pitino, meaning no disrespect to Michigan, thinks Minnesota is worthy of some discussion, as well.

"Don't get me wrong. What Michigan went through, it makes you all think twice," Pitino said. "I'm so happy for those guys, that they're safe, that they're playing for each other. Something like that puts everything in perspective. So happy that all those guys are safe. They were able to get here. They're embracing the moment. They're not rattled by it, which is special to see.

"But I think we got a pretty special story, too.

"I think our story is great. We went into the season with a lot of question marks, a lot of uncertainty. We ended a season with, you know, nobody really believing in us. I'm not sure they should have. We just dealt with it. We believed in what we were doing. We turned it around."

Former Illini champion Kevin Anderson upsets Roger Federer in Wimbledon quarterfinal

anderson.jpg
USA TODAY

Former Illini champion Kevin Anderson upsets Roger Federer in Wimbledon quarterfinal

Former University of Illinois tennis star Kevin Anderson completed a marathon upset against an all-time great on the highest stage of professional tennis.

Anderson came back from two sets down to beat Roger Federer in Wimbledon’s quarterfinals 2-6, 6-7, 7-6, 6-4, 13-11 on Wednesday morning. He will play in the semifinals of the tournament for the first time in his career.

As a native of South Africa, Anderson played three seasons with the Fighting Illini and won the NCAA doubles championship during the 2005-06 season as a sophomore. The 32-year-old was a three-time All-American in singles at Illinois.

Now, as the eighth ranked singles player on the ATP World Tour, Anderson is a force to be reckoned with at the professional level. He made it all the way to the US Open final in 2017.

The former Illini star will look to keep his recent success going when he represents Illinois in the semifinals of Wimbledon this Friday.

Northwestern set to play Wisconsin at Wrigley Field in 2020

Northwestern set to play Wisconsin at Wrigley Field in 2020

Weeks will separate a perfect 10-year anniversary where Northwestern will play at Wrigley Field for one of its regular season games in the upcoming years.

Back on Nov. 20, 2010, the Wildcats battled it out with Illinois, known as the “Wrigleyville Classic,” which saw the Illini take a 48-27 win.

Even though it’s still two years out, Northwestern still planned ahead and announced its opponent for its game at Wrigley Field on Nov. 7, 2020, against Big Ten rival Wisconsin.

“Obviously an exciting opportunity for our football program to come back to Wrigley Field, one of the Cathedrals of sporting venues in the world,” Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald said. “When I announced it to our team, they were absolutely ecstatic.”

“The opportunity to play at Wrigley field is unique to us, being Chicago’s Big Ten team, and to have the chance to come down and play in an atmosphere like we did a few years back was a bowl game type atmosphere, and I look forward to this special opportunity.”

This game though will be a little different than it was back in 2010. Both the Wildcats and Illini played toward the west end zone due to a tight squeeze near the right field wall due to box seats that were added down the third base line.

Now, Northwestern and Wisconsin do not have to worry about that problem because the bullpens have since moved to the outfield.

Cubs president of business operations Crane Kenney spoke at a news conference earlier on Tuesday at Wrigley.

“So excited to welcome back Northwestern to Wrigley Field to talk about football again,” Kenney said. “We had an incredible experience with them back in 2010."

Kenney also mentioned new seating is on a temporary platform that can all be removed and the dugout tops can be removed as well, and the field will expand west, to allow for a longer field.

With a sellout crowd in the last go around for the Wildcats, don’t be surprised for another sellout at the Friendly Confines.