MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — The Gophers men’s basketball team stayed hot Thursday night, winning their eighth consecutive Big Ten game. It was their 23rd win of the season.

It’s even more impressive when you consider that they finished last in the Big Ten a year ago. They will play in the NCAA tournament for the first time in four years.

“It’s great! We’re going straight to the Final Four,” fan Nathan Studanski said. “We’re going to win it all in Phoenix.”

It’s funny how low expectations at the beginning of a basketball season can quickly change to thoughts of a deep run at the tournament. Even if the predictors are getting ahead of themselves, the energy at Williams Arena is unmistakable.

Gopher fans have good reason to wave their towels in March. They went from eight wins a year ago, to more than 20 and counting. It’s helped breathe new life into “The Barn,” especially from those in the Barnyard student section like senior Emily Anger.

“It’s crazy,” she said. “It’s so nice having my senior year be one where we actually have success.”

Sophomores Michael Wessels has the Gopher basketball bug, too.

“I remember last year coming to the game and not even having a full stadium,” he said.

Even fans who’ve been coming to games for 40 years like Dave and Jan Windmeier can’t remember this much excitement.

“It was kind of depressing last year,” Dave said. “Not this year.”

But on a night when the Gophers won their eighth straight conference game, it was their PA announcer who had the best seat in the house.

“The biggest thing for me is that there have only been two of us in the history of Williams Arena,” announcer Dick Jonckowski said.

Jonckowski called his last Thursday night game. He’s been the man behind the mic for 31 years. His run at Williams Arena is over, but he’s hoping this team’s run is just beginning.

“I’m really proud of the guys. They are such classy guys,” he said. “I just like the way the team is put together. They are very unselfish.”

Jonckowski said he’ll still be calling Gopher baseball games this spring, but he’s hoping the men’s basketball team keeps his attention throughout the month of March.

John Lauritsen