MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -The cupcakes have been devoured, the trash has been taken out.
Now it's time to find out just what the Minnesota Golden Gophers are made of.
After a dreamy December, Minnesota faces a daunting January. The Gophers play at fourth-ranked Purdue on Tuesday and then face Michigan State twice, Ohio State twice and Northwestern in their next seven games.
The Gophers will carry a seven-game win streak into raucous Mackey Arena to face Purdue, but the combined record of their opponents in those seven victories is 40-53. Wins over the likes of Brown, Morgan State and South Dakota State at the end of 2009 will do little to get the NCAA tournament selection committee's attention in 2010.
A victory over the undefeated Boilermakers (13-0) certainly would change that.
``We have to play like men to get a win,'' senior guard Lawrence Westbrook said. ``This is the perfect game to figure out where you are as a team.''
gave the team three defeats in a row.
The combined records of their next seven opponents? 65-23.
To make matters more challenging, the Gophers will likely have to play the deep and experienced Boilermakers without starting center Ralph Sampson III. Coach Tubby Smith said Monday that Sampson is still bothered by an ankle injury that kept him out of Saturday's victory at Iowa, meaning the Gophers will be missing a 6-foot-11 presence on the defensive end.
Colton Iverson, at 6-10, will get his second start in Sampson's place and he'll have to be much better than he was at Iowa, where he went scoreless with five rebounds in 21 minutes.
``He always gives us what he has,'' Smith said. ``We're still working pretty hard to help him gain confidence at the offensive end and then stay out of foul trouble. That's going to be important for him.''
Without Sampson against the Hawkeyes, the Gophers went with a smaller lineup and relied more upon the full-court press to create turnovers and spark their transition game. They forced 18 turnovers in the first half and 25 for the game, cruising to the 86-74 win.
``I think we're going to have to get after them with the press,'' senior forward Damian Johnson said. ``A lot of Big Ten teams, they're not used to that pace. So we're going to try to use that to our advantage.''
time to lanky forward Paul Carter alongside Johnson in a more athletic, but smaller, front court.
``We have to make up for our lack of size by using our quickness and extending our defense and hopefully creating more possessions for ourselves,'' Smith said.
Purdue is coming off a convincing win at home over sixth-ranked West Virginia, 77-62.
With a test this big on their hands, the Gophers (11-3, 2-0 Big Ten) don't have time to worry about the rest of January.
``In the Big Ten, you have to focus on one game at a time. If you don't, you're going to get killed,'' Westbrook said. ``You just have to focus on Purdue. To be honest with you I don't even know who we play next.''
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