Minnesota senior guard Blake Hoffarber is known for making shots. There's the one in the high school state championship game during Hoffarber's sophomore year at Hopkins High school in Minnetonka, Minn. When the desperation pass the full length of the court bounced around, Hoffarber fell flat on his back, then the ball made its way to his hands. He made the shot from the corner to force overtime while still lying on the floor. Too bad it wasn't a 3-pointer. "My butt was on the line,'' said Hoffarber, whose team eventually won the title. Hoffarber's shot won an ESPY, and the clip has 9.5 million hits on YouTube.
MINNEAPOLIS -- Minnesota senior guard Blake Hoffarber is known for making shots.
There's the one in the high school state championship game during Hoffarber's sophomore year at Hopkins High school in Minnetonka, Minn. When the desperation pass the full length of the court bounced around, Hoffarber fell flat on his back, then the ball made its way to his hands. He made the shot from the corner to force overtime while still lying on the floor. Too bad it wasn't a 3-pointer.
"My butt was on the line,'' said Hoffarber, whose team eventually won the title. Hoffarber's shot won an ESPY, and the clip has 9.5 million hits on YouTube.
Then there was his freshman season at Minnesota, when Hoffarber caught another long, desperation pass in traffic at the Gophers' free-throw line and flipped a one-hander to upset Indiana (and Eric Gordon) in the Big Ten Tournament quarterfinals.
"There's always a little bit of luck,'' Hoffarber said. "I was pretty lucky, especially the one in high school. It always seemed to fall that way.''
When Minnesota hosts Illinois on Thursday in a Big Ten Conference game, the Gophers hope to end a three-game losing streak. The Illini lost six of their last seven games away from Assembly Hall.
The Gophers' leading scorer as a senior, Hoffarber took over the point guard position in the season's stretch run, after guard Al Nolen suffered a broken bone in his foot in January and the transfer of junior guard Devoe Joseph in early in the mon th to Oregon. Hoffarber averages 14.2 points and four assists per game, both career highs, and his 34.5 minutes per game are the most by any Minnesota player in the four seasons under coach Tubby Smith.
"It definitely makes you appreciate what point guards do,'' Hoffarber said. "I have a lot on my shoulders.''
Hoffarber led Minnesota in scoring in 11 games and assists in 12 games, but he lost eight turnovers over the last two games.
"He's been unbelievable,'' Smith said. "He's carried a major load. When he's playing well, we're playing well. He gets worn down some. That probably leads to some poor decisions.
"We're asking Blake to get out and guard some pretty talented point guards. I think that does contribute to him wearing down and not having his legs under him.''
Hoffarber limped through the second half of the loss to top-ranked Ohio State on Sunday, and he's receiving treatment on the bursa sac in his left knee.
With Hoffarber's busy workload, that might make it easier for Illini guard Demetri McCamey, who reached double figures for the first time in four games with 14 in the loss at Northwestern on Saturday.
"With us not having Al Nolen, that's a tough matchup,'' Smith said.
With freshman forward Maurice Walker also sidelined with a knee injury, the Gophers are down to eight scholarship players but still have an imposing front line. Since Nolen's injury, the Gophers juggled the lineup looking for the right combination -- starting Hoffarber and four big men, then going with Hoffarber, freshman Austin Hollins and three bigs.
Minnesota ended a 22-game losing streak in Assembly Hall last season with a 62-60 win in late February, a victory that served as a catalyst to the Gophers jumping over the Illini in the conference standings to earn an NCAA bid while the Illini fell into the NIT.
"A lot of people thought they should have made the tournament,'' Hoffarber said. "You need to go in every night with the thought this might be the team that slips ahead of you.''
The pressure is mounting on the Illini seniors, who have one NCAA berth and no tournament wins in their careers.
"Everyone wants to make it there, especially me,'' Illinois center Mike Tisdale said. "I've only been there once. I want to make it again. This is the last chance. We have to win some games. This is the last thing people will remember. You're as good as your last game. We have a lot to prove. We have games where we can do some damage. It will only come if we play the right way and play to win.''
Illinois coach Bruce Weber hinted at a possible lineup change but also said he wouldn't go crazy. The key, Weber said, is getting off to a better start on the road.
"It will be important for us to come out and have a great start,'' Illinois coach Bruce Weber said. "Somewhere, we've got to get out there and play, get after it and play, just play with some reckless abandon. I'd rather have that than to play tentative.''
John Supinie can be reached at Johnsupinie@aol.com.
Illinois (15-8, 5-5) at Minnesota (16-7, 5-6)
8 p.m., Williams Arena (14,625), Minneapolis (ESPN, Illini Sports Network)
ILLINOIS (15-8, 5-5) ppg rpg
F Mike Davis Sr. 6-9 11.3 6.7
F Jereme Richmond Fr. 6-7 8.3 5.3
C Mike Tisdale Sr. 7-1 9.7 6.8
G D.J. Richardson So. 6-3 9.5 1.9
G Demetri McCamey Sr. 6-3 14.7 3.3
MINNESOTA (16-7, 5-6)
F Ralph Sampson III Jr. 6-11 10.9 5.5
F Rodney Williams So. 6-7 6.4 3.3
F Trevor Mbakwe Jr. 6-8 13.0 10.3
G Austin Hollins Fr. 6-4 4.2 1.3
G Blake Hoffarber Sr. 6-4 14.2 3.4
Noteworthy: Illinois leads the series 105-59 but trails 40-41 in games played in Minneapolis. This is the only meeting between the two teams in the regular season. ... Illinois finishes a stretch of three out of four games on the road. Illinois lost six of its last seven away from Assembly Hall. ... The Illini bench has outscored the opposing bench in nine straight games. ... The Gophers haven't lost four straight games in coach Tubby Smith's tenure. ... In 2008-09, the Gophers ended a 20-game losing streak to the Illini. ... Mbakwe's 13 double-doubles this season rank 10th nationally.
Key for Illini: Get off to a good start.
Key for Gophers: Make things difficult on McCamey, then see if anyone else can rescue the Illini.
Key quote: "The main thing I'd like to see change is having a better start. We don't come out with much energy or enthusiasm like we really should.'' -- Illinois guard Brandon Paul.
Prediction: Minnesota 68, Illinois 63