Gophers

Minnesota Tops West Virginia For Puerto Rico Title

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Guard Blake Hoffarber #24 of the Minnesota Golden Gophers. (credit: Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

Guard Blake Hoffarber #24 of the Minnesota Golden Gophers. (credit: Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

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SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) – Blake Hoffarber hit the winning 3-pointer with 1:31 left to lift Minnesota to a 74-70 win over West Virginia on Sunday night in the final of the Puerto Rico Tip-Off tournament.

Hoffarber hit 4 3-pointers and scored 12 points for the Golden Gophers (5-0), who capped their four-day run in Puerto Rico with a championship trophy. Al Nolen scored 17 points and Trevor Mbakwe added 16.

Minnesota beat No. 8 North Carolina on Friday and a Mountaineers (3-1) team fresh off a run to the Final Four.

Unranked, still unbeaten.

Casey Mitchell scored 27 points for West Virginia. No one else reached double digits and Mitchell cooled down the stretch. He missed a tying 3 in the final minute.

Coach Tubby Smith put the Big Ten on notice that they’ll be a contender.

The Gophers went wild when the final horn sounded and did their little huddle dance in front of the bench. They led a strong number of Minnesota fans in chanting for the school and high-fived all the ones in the front row in celebration.

They had every reason to smile after this one. This Tubby vs. Huggy matchup was a thriller right from the tip.

The were nine lead changes and the score was tied 10 times in the title game. Hoffarber finally hit the decisive shot.

He hit a baseline 3 in front of an exuberant Minnesota bench with 1:31 to go and a 73-70 lead.

The Gophers tossed up a wild shot as the shot-clock expired, giving the Mountaineers one more chance to tie with 24.3 seconds left. But they missed two shots — Nolen was up in Mitchell’s face on a 3-attempt on the first one and they missed around the basket on the next.

The Gophers hit one free-throw to secure the win. Mbakwe was the MVP of the eight-team tournament.

Colton Iverson scored 15 points and had eight rebounds. Iverson put the Gophers up 61-60 on a three-point play and his dunk on a Nolen miss made it a four-point lead.

Kevin Jones hit a tying 3 for Bob Huggins’ Moutaineers that made it 68-68 and Mitchell tied it at 70 on a pair of free throws.

It was that kind of back-and-forth game without a moment to catch your breath. Hoffarber hits a 3-pointer and Mitchell comes back with a one-handed layup and the foul to cut the Gophers’ lead to 42-39.

And when Nolen tossed the ball away on a foolish no-look pass down the lane, there was Mitchell again to capitalize, scoring a fastbreak layup that pulled the Mountaineers to 52-50.

Dalton Pepper banked a 3 and the Mountaineers led 56-55.

The lead didn’t last. They never did until the last one.

Each coach has been to a Final Four: Smith won the 1998 national title at Kentucky; Huggins went last season and in 1992 with Cincinnati.

Mitchell, who hit the winning 3-pointer with 3.8 seconds left to beat Vanderbilt on Friday, came out taking and making seemingly every shot in sight. He scored 16 of West Virginia’s first 20 points, and had 18 overall in the first half on the strength of four 3-pointers. In this game, it was only enough to help the Gophers keep pace, not the lead.

They did it all in front of a surprisingly packed and loud crowd at Coliseo de Puerto Rico. The single-day crowd of 11,575 was easily a one-day record for the four-year old tournament. West Virginia fans showed they liked to travel when they followed the Mountaineers all the way to Indianapolis during last year’s Final Four run. The ones who came down from Minnesota were no doubt pleased they missed the freezing drizzle and rain that coated central and southern Minnesota.

(© Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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