Barn burners: No. 5 Illinois runs away from Gophers in 94-63 blowout

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Marcus Fuller, Star Tribune
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Illinois made the Gophers rethink if they could compete physically in the Big Ten in a 27-point loss in Champaign in December.

A few months later, Minnesota's homecourt advantage didn't prevent a similar outcome in another humbling 94-63 loss Saturday to the No. 5-ranked Illinois at Williams Arena.

This was a case of two teams going in opposite directions with not much slowing them down.

The Illini (16-5, 14-3 in the Big Ten) got 41 points combined from one of the best inside-outside tandems in college basketball, Ayo Dosunmu and Kofi Cockburn, to win their seventh straight game Saturday.

Dosunmu had his second triple-double this season with 19 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists.

The Gophers (13-10, 6-10 in the Big Ten), who were led by freshman Jamal Mashburn Jr.'s 16 points, suffered their eighth loss in the last 11 games. Any more losses will likely to put them even more on the wrong side of the NCAA tournament bubble in most projections.

With four games left in the regular season, Richard Pitino will need his injury-plagued team to regroup quickly and go undefeated the rest of the way just to finish with a .500 record.

That task seems pretty far-fetched as overmatched as Minnesota appeared Saturday playing with center Liam Robbins (ankle) hobbled and missing veteran guard Gabe Kalscheur (broken finger).

Robbins started the game doing his best to battle Illinois' 7-foot, 285-pound center Kofi Cockburn, who had 33 points in the 92-65 win against Minnesota on Dec. 15. The 7-foot Robbins had five blocks in the first half to help the Gophers keep it competitive for the first 28 minutes.

A three-pointer from Tre' Williams made it 34-29 with just under four minutes left in the first half, but the Gophers just woke up a sleeping giant.

The Illini ended the half on an 11-2 run, highlighted by steal and half-court buzzer-beater by Trent Frazier to take a 48-33 halftime lead. Minnesota's players looked deflated as they left the floor.

In the second half, the Gophers were outscored 13-2 seemingly before they could even fight back. Eight dunks in the game from Illinois, included Cockburn trying to bring the rim down twice with no opposition.

The Illini, who shot 56% from the field and outscored their opponent 48-20 in the paint, resembled a Final Four contender, especially with Dosunmu and Cockburn keep playing like All-Americans.

The Gophers, who won't get Kalscheur back until maybe the Big Ten tournament in mid-March, looked like a vulnerable team that can't afford any bad losses to finish the regular season.

Up next are two games that could be catastrophic for their NCAA tournament hopes, playing Thursday vs. Northwestern at home and Saturday at Nebraska.