When it most needed its best game of the season, Minnesota came up with it.
The Golden Gophers' 75-73 upset of No. 13 Purdue on Friday night advanced them to Saturday's second semifinal in the Big 10 tournament, where they will face No. 10 Michigan at the United Center in Chicago. It also gave them their 21st win of the season and -- if there was any doubt after they survived Penn State in Thursday night's second round -- pushed them off the NCAA Tournament bubble and solidly into the 68-team field.
"We'll plan a nice little party on Sunday," Minnesota coach Richard Pitino told the media after the game, "but we're not done yet. Hopefully, we can get a win tomorrow, too, and keep this thing moving."
Jordan Murphy's 27 points and eight rebounds fueled the Gophers' second win over the Boilermakers this month. His three-point play with little more than two minutes left put Minnesota ahead for good, and his two foul shots with 1:17 remaining helped put the game away.
Murphy (14.5 ppg, 11.8 rebounds) and swingman Amir Coffey (16.2 ppg) give seventh-seeded Minnesota one of the best 1-2 punches around. But for the Gophers to avenge two regular-season losses at the Wolverines' hands, they'll need their Coffey to be full-flavored.
The creative Coffey, who supplied 21 points against Purdue, has been decaffeinated when facing Michigan's sticky defense. Coffey is just 6 of 26 from the field, including a 2-for-15 performance Feb. 21 in a 69-60 loss in Minneapolis.
Not that Coffey is alone in terms of flailing and failing against the third-seeded Wolverines (27-5). They reinforced their reputation for excellent defense by clamping down on high-powered Iowa in Friday night's late quarterfinal, limiting the Hawkeyes to 1-of-16 shooting from the arc in a 74-53 beatdown.
Michigan held Iowa 26 points below its scoring average, allowing the Hawkeyes to make only 35.6 percent of their field goals. Wolverines coach John Beilein gave credit to 6-foot-6 guard Charles Matthews, who missed the last three regular-season games due to injury, for spearheading the defensive success.
"He directs the whole thing, and it was an obvious issue in the games we didn't have him," Beilein said. "To have him back is just huge. He takes care of his man on defense, and you can hear him calling out everyone else's matchups."
Michigan's offense was pretty good, too. With point guard Zavier Simpson bagging 10 points and 11 assists, the Wolverines drew 24 assists on 28 made field goals. Eight different players managed at least one assist and five picked up multiple helpers.
Not only did Simpson take charge offensively, he also locked down Jordan Bohannon. The Hawkeyes' point guard took just two shots and missed both, thanks to Simpson's defense. It all added up to Michigan's ninth straight Big 10 tourney victory.
"Maybe it's that mid-major mentality I've had all along where you feel like you have to win the tournament," Beilein said. "If you go into tournaments and you're a team that doesn't beat itself during the season, maybe you have some success."
The winner plays either top-seeded Michigan State or fourth-seeded Wisconsin for the tournament crown on Sunday.
--Field Level Media