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The Gophers took back the Axe - now what?

November 26, 2018

The Gophers football teams 37-15 victory at Wisconsin on Saturday has all the makings of a program-defining win. At the very least, it changed the narrative of what P.J. Fleck is building.

Lose the game and the Gophers would have had an identical record to Flecks first year at 5-7. That would have meant no bowl game and more grumbles about what exactly hes building here.

Its funny how a leave-no-doubt victory over a big brother-esque rival can make everyone feel better about things. The win puts a punctuation mark on tangible improvement on multiple levels.

But Saturday wasnt just about construction. It was also about catharsis. The Gophers hadnt defeated the Badgers since 2003, and lest you think 15 years isnt really all that long

Glen Mason was in the midst of his seventh (and most successful) season coaching the Gophers when they beat Wisconsin 37-34 in 2003, the last Gophers victory in the series before Saturday. They wound up winning 10 games that season, and Mason coached three more years after that.

Four seasons of Tim Brewster followed (including a midseason firing after the Gophers had already lost to Wisconsin and Jeff Horton took over as interim coach) and then Jerry Kill and then Tracy Claeys. Entire coaching regimes didnt get done what Fleck and his team did Saturday. Some of Flecks youngest players werent even in kindergarten the last time the Gophers took the Axe.

We were in the midst of what can be thought of as a golden age (or at least a silver age) of Minnesota sports back then. It was Masons best season. The Wolves were on the way to the Western Conference finals. The Wild had made an appearance in those conference finals only months earlier. The Twins had just won their second consecutive division title.

Nobody tweeted about the Gophers last victory over the Badgers because Twitter wasnt created yet. That wouldnt happen until 2006. If you were excited in 2003 about the win, you might have texted or called a friend via a flip phone iPhones didnt arrive until 2007 or logged on to leave a comment on a message board using dial-up internet.

If you didnt brag about Saturdays game on social media, did it even happen? (OK, it did.) But 15 years is a long span. Times have definitely changed and well see if this victory can be a catalyst for change within the Gophers program as well.

andensp;Speaking of defining victories, the Wilds stirring comeback win Friday over Winnipeg was a head-turner. You never want to make too much out of one game on an 82-game schedule, but theres a sense that this years squad might have more to offer in the postseason than other recent versions of the Wild.

April should bring answers. Maybe we can just fast-forward through all the snow, cold and 3-2 weeknight games to find out sooner?

andensp;The Wolves are 9-11 this season, and theyve now played exactly 10 games with Jimmy Butler in the lineup and 10 games without him. Theyre 6-4 playing without him (including 5-2 since the trade) after going 3-7 when he played. The schedule has something to do with that, but so does addition by subtraction.

andensp;Lets take a moment, also, to note that Minnesota wouldnt be pointing toward .500 without Derrick Rose. He scored a combined 47 points in back-to-back victories Friday and Saturday over the Nets and Bulls. He also gives a professional, steady effort every game something that still cant be said for all his teammates.

andensp;Robert Covington (1-for-18) and Andrew Wiggins (0-for-12) combined to shoot 1-for-30 as starting wings for the Wolves on Saturday, and they still won by 15. Part of the reason? Covington played stifling defense, grabbed six rebounds, blocked three shots and nabbed three steals.

Wiggins, however, was not only held scoreless but grabbed only one rebound with one assist, no steals and no blocks in his 29 minutes.

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