Battle of 6-foot-11 marksmen doesn’t live up to hype (Men’s Basketball)

Jim Martinho

MINNEAPOLIS — Saturday’s matchup between Northwestern and Minnesota featured two teams with losing Big Ten records, the two worst free-throw shooting teams in the conference, and two of the best 3-point-shooting big men in the country.

Golden Gophers forward Rick Rickert leads all players 6-foot-11 or taller with 19 treys made, and Wildcats center Aaron Jennings is second with 16. But neither player made a shot from 3-point range in the Gophers’ 74-57 win, as Rickert finished with a quiet 11 points and Jennings scored 12 in the paint and four from the foul line.

Rickert has had an up-and-down sophomore season following a 2002 Big Ten Freshman of the Year campaign. Rickert is most dangerous facing the basket from the outside. But recent shooting woes — including a 4 of 19 performance in a loss to Illinois — had Rickert looking to bounce back against the Cats’ porous perimeter defense.

But Rickert made only 1 of 7 shots in the first half — missing his only shot from beyond the arc — in 19 minutes. And he watched from the bench as the Gophers put the game out of reach with a 12-0 run that began with 16:17 left in the game.

Although Rickert failed to capitalize on NU’s poor 3-point defense, guard Kevin Burleson and forward Michael Bauer combined to shoot 6 of 13 from downtown.

Jennings missed his only 3-point attempt, but went 6-for-13 from inside the arc while playing all 40 minutes. The senior scored six of the Cats’ first eight points on two open lay-ups and a spin move to the basket, and finished as the only NU player in double figures.

“If I’m open on the outside I have to step up and make shots, but today I wasn’t open,” Jennings said. “The guys found me down low and got me some nice passes for some easy baskets.”

Although he pulled down eight rebounds, Jennings took responsibility for Minnesota’s 37-29 rebounding advantage — including 15 Gophers offensive boards.

“They’re a big team, but I have to take it upon myself as the biggest guy on the team to get in there and rebound,” Jennings said. “If they’re getting offensive rebounds, we’re not doing our job.”

FRESHNESS GUARANTEED: While struggling Cats senior Winston Blake played only five minutes, two NU freshmen saw some of their most extensive action of the season.

Guard Mohamed Hachad played a season-high 22 minutes, starting the second half in place of Jason Burke. He joined fellow freshman guard T.J. Parker and forward Jimmy Maley in NU’s young lineup. Hachad swiped five steals, shot 3-for-5 from the floor and had only one turnover to go with three assists, but he made only 3 of 8 from the free-throw line

Parker said he hopes Hachad, his roommate, will get more minutes as he continues to progress.

“You can see Mohamed’s defensive presence — he’s got long arms and he can get steals,” Parker said. “When me, Jitim and Mohamed are out there together, we can press because we’re all quick and fast.”

Guard Evan Seacat joined Hachad with nine points on three 3-pointers in the second half — NU’s only baskets from beyond the arc. The Cats finished 3 of 19 from 3-point range.

BLOCK PARTY: Minnesota blocked nine Cats shots — seven in the first half — after racking up 21 rejections in splitting two games against NU last season.

Parker was blocked on a drive to the basket on the Cats’ first offensive possession, and Jennings was rejected three times in the first half alone. Rickert, Bauer and Burleson led the way with two swats each for the Gophers.