EVANSTON, Ill. -- Tubby Smith wasn't holding back. Instead, he was unloading.
"When you're losing, people point the finger," he said. "That's the quickest way to start. That's the way it starts, instead of being `my fault.' Then, you look at the refs. You look at the coach. Somebody's not doing something. That's what losers do."
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Jared Swopshire scored 16 points for Northwestern, and in a game where baskets were hard to come by at times, the Wildcats (12-8, 3-4 Big Ten) made just enough shots down the stretch to beat a ranked opponent for the second time in three games.
That gave the Golden Gophers (15-4, 3-3) three straight losses, and it left their coach simply shaking his head.
"I'm at a loss," Smith said. "I thought we had corrected some things."
Alex Marcotullio made a 3-pointer midway through the second half to give Northwestern a one-point lead and start the decisive 13-2 run.
Reggie Hearn scored 13 points after averaging 21 in the previous two games. Tre Demps added 10 points, and the Wildcats shook off a loss to Indiana and took out another ranked team to go with their victory over then-No. 23 Illinois last week.
They prevailed despite getting outrebounded 45-31 and hitting just 17 of 32 free throws because Minnesota simply couldn't convert, whether the Gophers were taking layups, jumpers or free throws.
They were 7 of 17 from the foul line and were a mess from the field.
They shot 33.3 percent overall and were 5 of 19 on 3-pointers.
Trevor Mbakwe had 14 points and 16 rebounds, but no one else stepped up for Minnesota.
"I think they (Minnesota) were frustrated with the 1-3-1," Hearn said of the zone defense. "They couldn't seem to figure it out."
He'll get no argument from Smith, who said his team simply didn't attack it.
Andre Hollins was just 2 of 9 with six points and seven turnovers. Austin Hollins scored six points and fouled out with 11:47 left in the game. That didn't sit well with Smith, but more than anything, the team's attitude seemed to bother him.
"We have a tendency to just kind of take ourselves out of the game with our attitude about `They're hitting me' or `I'm being pushed,"' he said. "We've tried in practice to simulate not calling fouls. I guess we didn't do a good enough job of that."
Minnesota was out of sync most of the game.
They missed 12 straight 3-pointers before Andre Hollins hit one with 35 seconds left. That made it 52-48, but Hearn made 3 of 4 free throws to preserve the win.
The Wildcats were trailing 39-37 after a dunk off an alley-oop pass by the Gophers' Rodney Williams when Marcotullio nailed a 3 with 10:25 left to give the Wildcats a 40-39 lead and start the decisive run.
Demps buried a 3 from the corner about 3 minutes later and followed that with two free throws to make it a six-point game.
A pivoting Joe Coleman then made a jumper, ending about a 5-minute scoreless drought, but Alex Olah and Swopshire followed with layups to keep the run going.
Smith questioned his team's effort following the loss to Michigan, and he probably wasn't thrilled with what he saw in the early going.
The Gophers led 27-24 at halftime even though they shot just 29 percent and cooled off in a big way from the outside after a promising start.
They made four 3-pointers in the early going but were just 4 of 13 in the half. And neither team was connecting at the free throw line in the early going, with Minnesota making 5 of 10 and Northwestern 7 of 15.
Despite all that, the Gophers were leading 27-19 after a 9-2 spurt that Mbakwe started with a rebound dunk and finished with a three-point play in the lane with 4:45 left.
But with Minnesota going cold, the Wildcats hung in even though they weren't exactly lighting up the scoreboard and were within three at the half after Demps' jumper from the wing at the buzzer.
"We know we're a better team than the way we played tonight," Austin Hollins said.