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Gophers’ defense the culprit during four-game losing streak

Nebraska Cornhuskers guard Glynn Watson Jr. (5) dribbles the ball past Minnesota Golden Gophers guard Gabe Kalscheur (22) during the second half Wednesday, Feb. 13, at Pinnacle Bank Arena in Lincoln, Neb. Bruce Thorson / USA TODAY Sports

MINNEAPOLIS -- Sitting on the Gophers’ bench, injured center Eric Curry had a different perspective on the controversial finish to Nebraska’s 62-61 victory over Minnesota on Wednesday, Feb. 15.

Curry said he doesn’t dwell on the controversial foul call on teammate Amir Coffey -- one the U disputes and which gave Cornhuskers guard James Palmer Jr. the opportunity to win the game with two made free throws with 1.1 seconds left.

While Curry, too, disagreed with the call, he pointed to how Dupree McBrayer and Daniel Oturu couldn’t corral a defensive rebound on Thomas Allen’s missed layup with the U leading 61-60 with 2.7 seconds remaining.

“That’s what I go off of,” Curry said. “We shouldn’t have been in that position.”

This view speaks to larger point on how the Gophers’ defensive issues have dragged the U down to a middling season with six regular-season games left.

With offensive and defensive efficiency being key components of the new NCAA Evaluation Tool (NET), Minnesota’s offense, which is 52nd in the nation, has been hampered by its defense. The Gophers’ adjusted defensive efficiency ranks 69th in the nation (points allowed per 100 possessions while accounting for opponents), according to analytics site

Minnesota (16-9, 6-8 Big Ten) is 11th or worse in the conference in scoring defense, as well as field goal and 3-point shooting percentages allowed, heading into Saturday’s 1 p.m. game against Indiana (13-11, 4-9) at Williams Arena.

The Gophers coughed up an 11-point, first-half lead against the Cornhuskers and allowed them to shoot 50 percent from the field. That allowed Nebraska to snap a seven-game losing streak and stretch Minnesota losing streak to four games.

The Cornhuskers scored seven consecutive baskets to erase the Gophers’ early lead. Throughout the game, Nebraska was able to score multiple layups.

“We’ve just got to use the fuel of that last game and take it out on Indiana,” Curry said.

Curry has missed two straight games because of a calf injury. Gophers coach Richard Pitino says Curry is “moving closer and closer (to returning), but I still don’t know.”

Curry would be a welcome addition, with the Hoosiers featuring 6-foot-8 forward Juwan Morgan, who had a career-high 14 rebounds in Indiana’s 55-52 loss to Ohio State on Sunday.

“They’ve got a very good low post game, and Romeo Langford is extremely talented, so they are a good team,” Pitino said. “It’s going to be a tough test for us.”

Stopping Langford, one of the best freshman in the country and a potential NBA lottery pick, will be key. He is averaging a team-high 17.6 points per game, making 42 percent of his shots from 3-point range in the past four games.

The Hoosiers have lost nine of 10 games, but their one win was against No. 11 Michigan State in East Lansing on Feb. 2. As Nebraska showed, against the Gophers’ defense, past performances have not been an indicator of future success.