Jace Frederick / St. Paul Pioneer Press
MINNEAPOLIS — Gophers volleyball coach Hugh McCutcheon knew his team would be talented entering the season. But how good Minnesota would be was anyone's guess. "We didn't really know what (this season) was going to be," junior setter Samantha Seliger-Swenson said. There wasn't much evidence to suggest one way or the other. The Gophers appeared in each of the past two Final Fours but graduated the likes of Hannah Tapp, Paige Tapp, Sarah Wilhite and Katie Schau, who did much of the heavy lifting for last year's team.
MINNEAPOLIS — For another night, the Timberwolves went without two key cogs in its rotation, as Jeff Teague and Nemanja Bjelica missed Minnesota's home game against Washington on Tuesday, Nov. 28. Teague, who is out with a sore Achilles, and Bjelica, who has an issue with his left foot, have now missed three consecutive games. There was initial concern that Bjelica's injury was related to the broken navicular bone he had surgically repaired last spring, but he put that theory to bed Thursday morning.
MINNEAPOLIS — Taj Gibson finished with 16 points and 14 rebounds in Minnesota's 119-108 win over Phoenix on Sunday, Nov. 26, another impressive stat line in an impressive season for the veteran forward. Ten of those points and eight of those rebounds came in the first 12 minutes, continuing a seasonlong trend for one of the Timberwolves' key offseason acquisitions. Gibson is averaging 10.6 points this season and career bests in rebounds (8.1), assists (1.5) and steals (1.0). He's getting most of that work done early.
MINNEAPOLIS — Layups, shots in the restricted area, free-throws and threes, particularly corner threes. Those are the most efficient shots in basketball, yielding the highest points per shot, on average. So, those are the shots most NBA teams strive to get. Wolves coach Tom Thibodeau was asked how often he emphasizes getting those shots to his players. He started to chuckle. "Every day," he said.
MINNEAPOLIS — The Timberwolves' locker room felt like a losing one Wednesday, even after a 124-118 win over Orlando at Target Center. Minnesota did not play winning basketball in the fourth quarter. Entering the final frame with a 106-80 advantage, the Wolves allowed Orlando to open the fourth with a 19-1 run to close the gap and force Minnesota to sweat out another close result.
EDEN PRAIRIE — Facing a third-and-7 from the Rams' 30-yard-line in the second quarter of the Vikings' win over Los Angeles Sunday, Nov. 19, Case Keenum took a shot, heaving the ball downfield toward a well-covered Adam Thielen. The pass fell incomplete to end the drive and Kai Forbath missed a field goal to keep the score 7-7. "Had a chance," Keenum said of the throw, "but you might check it down at that point and get a first down." But that's not who Case Keenum is, and it's what Vikings coach Mike Zimmer loves about him.
MINNEAPOLIS — Timberwolves coach Tom Thibodeau went to the same play four consecutive times on Wednesday, Nov. 15. Minnesota spread the floor and left Tyus Jones and Karl-Anthony Towns to run a pick and roll in the middle of the court. And on all four trips, the Wolves came away with a bucket, a key stretch in a 98-86 win over San Antonio that snapped a 12-game losing streak to the Spurs. "We just got in a good rhythm," Towns said after the game. "Known each other since high school, so we've always had that chemistry."
MINNEAPOLIS — There were mixed reactions when the Timberwolves signed Taj Gibson to a two-year, $28 million deal in free agency. Everyone knew Gibson was a solid player with a knowledge of Tom Thibodeau's system, but was he worth that kind of money to a team with so many other needs? So far, yes. When Gibson is on the floor, the Wolves are outscoring opponents by five points per 100 possessions, the best mark on the team. When he's not on the court, opponents are outscoring Minnesota by a whopping 13 points per possession. In short, the Wolves need Gibson.
In recent years, the Minnesota Timberwolves' second unit could be summed up as such: Shabazz Muhammad would try to single-handedly provide the offense, the defense would pray for misses on the other end and the Wolves' coaching staff would close its eyes and hold its breath until enough time had passed that the starters could come back into the game.
MINNEAPOLIS — It was fair to question Nemanja Bjelica's 3-point shooting capabilities last season. The versatile forward shot a measly 32 percent from deep and looked more interested in driving and play-making than putting up another long jumper. Was Bjelica even a threat from deep? Was he an option to spread the floor? Eleven games into the season, those questions have been answered. Bjelica leads the NBA in 3-point shooting, hitting 59 percent of his long-range attempts (16 for 27). He's shooting 60 percent from the field.