Minnesota 65, Northwestern 61
Blake Hoffarber hit four 3-pointers in the final seven-plus minutes, finishing with 20 points and lifting Minnesota to a 65-61 victory over Northwestern on Tuesday night.
Lawrence Westbrook pitched in 18 points and six assists for the Gophers (13-7, 4-4 Big Ten), who broke a three-game losing streak.
John Shurna led the second-half comeback for the Wildcats (14-6, 3-5) with 19 points and Michael Thompson added 15 points and six assists.
Hoffarber, the conference's leading 3-point shooter, combined for only 15 points in his last three games and went 2-for-11 from behind the arc. But he got going again just when the Gophers needed him the most.
Hoffarber gave Minnesota the lead for good with just under five minutes to go at 51-49 with a 3, then hit another one on the next possession.
His last was his best, when Westbrook went in the air without a clear shot and passed it to his left. Hoffarber let it fly with a hand in his face and the shot clock buzzing, and the ball swished through again for a 59-54 advantage.
Serbia native Luka Mirkovic's two free throws, with Minnesota students taunting him with a ``USA! USA!'' chant, cut the lead to 61-58 with 81 seconds left. Shurna could've tied it on Northwestern's next possession, but the rebound went off Mirkovic's hand and out of bounds. With three seconds left, Westbrook sealed the game with a pair of free throws.
With Northwestern staring at a game at No. 5 Michigan State on Saturday and Minnesota playing at 20th-ranked Ohio State on Sunday, both teams were in must-win mode to keep their NCAA tournament bid from falling too far off track.
The Wildcats boast victories over Notre Dame and 10th-ranked Purdue and an 11-1 nonconference record, making their situation a bit less critical.
The Gophers, though, have tough losses to Portland and Indiana that will hurt them with the selection committee. Their best chance for a boost slipped painfully away here on Saturday, when Michigan State took its first lead in the final 90 seconds and won 65-64.
Junior point guard Al Nolen became academically ineligible last week, and his steady presence was missed as much in this game as it was against Michigan State.
With only two days to shake off the frustration of that fall to the Spartans, a punch-in-the-stomach game for Minnesota sports fans that served as the undercard for the NFC championship game defeat for the Vikings, the Gophers found life after a rough shooting start to the first half.
Trying too many carefree crosscourt passes, the Gophers were sloppy in the second half, letting a 13-point lead shrink while Shurna shot the Wildcats back into the game.
Shurna gave Northwestern the lead on a fast break off a Gophers turnover, taking the ball right at Hoffarber to draw a foul that had the Williams Arena fans howling.
Shurna made one of his two free throws for a 49-48 edge, setting up the frantic final minutes.