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Gophers's Hoffarber struggling top find shooting rtouch

<b>Associated Press</b> Normally an excellent shooter, Blake Hoffarber has been inconsistent for the Gophers this season.

MINNEAPOLIS -- There's been no shortage of unsolicited advice for Blake Hoffarber, only a lack of swished shots.

One of Minnesota's many valuable reserves, the sophomore has experienced the first real slump of his career since the Big Ten season began. In eight conference games, Hoffarber has only 23 points.

He's 5-for-31 from 3-point range, where the Gophers rely on him the most.

"No one's changed his shot," coach Tubby Smith said after Wednesday's practice. "I think it's more psychological. Just getting a couple of 'em to go down, and he'll be fine. He's doing all the other things well, so there's no complaining along those lines."

As a team, Minnesota has been struggling to find consistent outside shooting and has relied on defense and depth to win games. Recent inside production from freshman Ralph Sampson and the versatile Damian Johnson has helped, too.

But Hoffarber, still the fourth-leading scorer on the team, will likely have to get his left-handed stroke in gear for the Gophers to stay near the top of the Big Ten and secure a spot in the NCAA tournament.

"There's nothing wrong with my shot," he said. "I've just been thinking about it too much."

Hoffarber shrugged off any impact moving the 3-point line back has had on his percentage. Smith indicated conference foes have figured out how to best guard him and keep him from getting in a rhythm.

"That was expected coming into the season," Smith said. "They're going to challenge him and pressure him. ... He needs to be a little more patient to hit the open shot."

He's also learning how to keep an even keel. When you play a high-profile sport at a major university, people are going to know when you're hot -- and when you're not. They're also, it seems, not shy about offering their perspective.

"Keep the follow through a little longer. Stop fading. Or put your elbow in. Stuff like that," Hoffarber said. "I've been shooting the same for so long. Here and there you've got to fix up your shot a little bit, but I think mine's fine right now."

Minnesota, which fell out of the Associated Press Top 25 this week, hosts 19th-ranked Illinois on Thursday night. Hoffarber was pleased with his performance in practice, so perhaps the game against the Illini will be his breakout.

"It's good when people say you're in a slump," Hoffarber said. "That means you're a pretty good shooter. ... You've just got to think about it like that. Keep it on the positive side."

Moving more without the ball to get open should help, as would better outside shooting from his teammates. Lawrence Westbrook has been relatively consistent, but Smith urged Jamal Abu-Shamala, Devron Bostick, Al Nolen and Devoe Joseph to establish their shots too. The Gophers, at 35.6 percent, are ninth in the Big Ten in 3-point shooting.

"Once you hit a couple, it'll just happen," Abu-Shamala said, analyzing Hoffarber's situation. "You'll break out and you'll be like, 'OK, I can do this."'