By Scott M. Johnson Herald writer
After dispatching of one of its most fervent rivals on Tuesday night, the University of Washington men’s basketball team will now have to face an unfamiliar opponent in the National Invitational Tournament semifinals.
Minnesota, a program that has not faced UW since the 1990-91 season, edged Middle Tennessee State on Wednesday night to move into a semifinal matchup with the Huskies (24-10). UW and the Gophers (22-14) are scheduled to play Tuesday at 6 p.m. Pacific time at Madison Square Garden in New York City.
Minnesota, a No. 6 seed in the 32-team tournament, won its third consecutive road game at Middle Tennessee State on Wednesday night. Rodney Williams continued his postseason tear, while freshman point guard Andre Hollins matched his 24 points in the Gophers’ 78-72 win.
Injuries and transfers have plagued Minnesota under Tubby Smith, and this year’s team finished ninth in the 12-team Big Ten. After losing star Trevor Mbakwe early in the season, the Gophers stayed afloat for NCAA tournament consideration before losing six consecutive games to close out a 1-7 month of February.
But Williams has matched or surpassed his career high in points for three consecutive games, leading the Gophers to NIT road wins at LaSalle, Miami and Middle Tennessee State.
The other NIT semifinal will pit Massachusetts and Stanford. That game will be played before the UW-Minnesota game Tuesday, with the two winners advancing to the championship game one week from today.