Nov. 19, 2010

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) -Blake Hoffarber scored 20 points, Ralph Sampson III and Trevor Mbakwe created havoc all over the court and Minnesota beat No. 8 North Carolina 72-67 on Friday night in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off tournament.

The Golden Gophers (3-0) mobbed each other in front of the bench and danced around in a circle to celebrate the win - and their trip to Sunday's final against West Virginia.

Beating a top-10 team in the Tar Heels (2-1) and a 2010 Final Four team in the Mountaineers would put the Gophers in a strong position to enter The Associated Press Top 25 and stamp themselves as a serious contender in the Big Ten.

Coach Tubby Smith had called North Carolina just "another game," but it sure looked like more while Hoffarber was silencing the pro-Tar Heels crowd with 3s. When the early upset was over, it looked as if Smith might have his best team yet in four seasons in Minnesota.

Smith also got the better of North Carolina's Roy Williams in a matchup of national championship-winning coaches. Smith won his in 1996 in his first year at Kentucky and Williams has won two since he took over at North Carolina.

The Tar Heels showed they're still developing after last year's 17-loss disappointment.

Harrison Barnes, the first freshman preseason All-America team pick, disappeared from the offense after a 19-point first half against Hofstra. He went scoreless in the second half of that rout, and was a non-factor against Minnesota. He missed all 12 shots and scored only six points.

Tyler Zeller scored 16 points, Reggie Bullock had 11 and John Henson grabbed 12 rebounds for the Tar Heels.

Back in North Carolina, the Cameron Crazies learned of the Tar Heels' loss late in top-ranked Duke's rout against Colgate and started chanting "Minnesota!"

The Gophers controlled Carolina from the opening tip. The Gophers led at halftime and never looked rattled.

Sampson scored 12 points, and Mbakwe had 12 points and nine rebounds. They kept Minnesota in control inside and outside, but the Gophers never led by more than 10 points until Hoffarber's 3-pointer made it 69-59.

Reggie Bullock hit a 3 for Carolina with 19 seconds left that cut it to 71-65 and put a brief scare into the Gophers. But a brief scare was all it was.

Smith built Tulsa into a legitimate NCAA tournament threat, restored Georgia's program to respectability and took Kentucky to a national championship, five Southeastern Conference titles and six regional semifinals.

He took over a Gophers program in 2007 that was ruined by NCAA sanctions and quickly made it competitive again, taking Minnesota to the NIT in his first year and two straight trips to the NCAA tournament.

It's early, but he could be primed for more this season.