Gophers still haven’t figured out how to be closers 06 Jan 12

NCAAB Team Report – Minnesota – GETTING INSIDE

Minnesota coach Tubby Smith might want to rethink his evaluation on his team’s ability to win close games. Last year, the Gophers fell victim to an inability to win close games, as they made countless turnovers and missed free throws.

Three games into the Big Ten season, including a 64-62 loss to Iowa on Wednesday, the Gophers (12-4 overall) are a troubling 0-3 in the conference. Smith denied that there were any similarities between last year’s issues and the current decline.

“No. Nothing. Haven’t seen anything,” Smith said. “Totally different team, haven’t seen anything from last season.”

Smith points to the mass overhaul on the roster for the differences between the two squads. Julian Welch leads the team in scoring after arriving from Yuba Community College. Redshirt freshmen Oto Osenieks and Elliott Eliason were stuck on the bench last year, while true freshmen Andre Hollins and Joe Coleman were in high school last season.

“It helps that we have new blood,” Smith said. “We only had eight players at the end of last year, and we have 10 healthy people right now. A lot of new faces and a lot of new people that didn’t play (last season).”

The Gophers showed signs of breaking their late-game woes by defeating DePaul 86-85 on Nov. 24 and Virginia Tech 58-55 on Nov. 30. But the Gophers fell back into their late-game funk in close losses to Illinois (in double overtime by nine points), at Michigan (five points) and then at home against Iowa (two points).

Minnesota sorely misses the inside presence and leadership of Trevor Mbakwe, who is sidelined for the rest of the season after suffering a knee injury in the seventh game. The Gophers have turned the ball over 214 times this season, showing slight improvement with just 12 turnovers against Iowa. The Gophers could get a chance to improve on their record in close games with upcoming contests against Purdue on Sunday and at Indiana on Jan. 12.

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NCAAB Team Report – Minnesota – NOTES, QUOTES

–Junior F Rodney Williams had 11 points and 12 rebounds in Minnesota’s loss to Iowa. Coach Tubby Smith recently stressed the need for players to step up and fill the rebounding chasm left by the season-ending injury to Trevor Mbakwe. Williams is helping fill that void, compiling 40 rebounds in last five games. The Gophers have struggled on the boards in Big Ten play. Williams has provided some punch in the scoring column, registering 11 points in each of his last two games and double digits in three of his last five.

–Senior C Ralph Sampson III contributed 12 points and four rebounds against Iowa. Sampson reverted back to his inconsistent rebounding ways after grabbing 10 rebounds against Michigan and nine at Illinois. Before those two games, Sampson had one rebound against Central Michigan and six vs. North Dakota State. Sampson must play with energy and attack the glass to help the Gophers during their current rebounding struggles.

–Minnesota had a chance Jan. 1 in Ann Arbor to do something the program hasn’t done since January, 1985: beat a ranked team on the road. And the Gophers were as close as a 3-point shot away from upsetting No. 18 Michigan, but a Rodney Williams trey was no good and the game was gone.

BY THE NUMBERS: 8 — The number of 3-pointers made by Minnesota at Michigan, accounting for 24 of the Gopher’s 56 points in the loss. The Gophers were 8-for-19 from behind the arc in the game, after going just 4-for-14 atIllinois.

QUOTE TO NOTE: “The close losses, those are the ones that hurt the most. But we can’t let these two losses determine the way the rest of our Big Ten season is going to go. We’ve got a lot of games left to play, and I think we’ll be all right.” — G Rodney Williams after his team lost at Michigan on Jan. 1 to go to 0-2 in Big Ten play.

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NCAAB Team Report – Minnesota – STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

–vs. Purdue, Jan. 8

KEY MATCHUPS: In Purdue, the Gophers have to deal with senior F Robbie Hummel, who entered Wednesday fifth in the Big Ten in scoring (16.5) and eighth in rebounding (6.2).

ON THE SPOT: Austin Hollins was mentioned by coach Tubby Smith during preparations for the Iowa game for his inability to grab a single rebound in 27 minutes against Michigan. For Hollins, the transition from shooting guard to small forward is a big adjustment. Hollins has to be more aggressive and utilize his height — 6-foot-5 — and play better defense. Hollins played 30 minutes against Iowa on Wednesday, and he finished with four points and six rebounds, including banging the offensive glass for five boards.

“He is not as physical (as he was at shooting guard),” Smith said of Hollins. “He has to be more. … I don’t care where you are playing or what you are doing, you better figure out a way to get a rebound. I want to see him rebound. Period. Just rebound. If he does that, I will be so happy.”

FUTURES MARKET: Freshman F Elliott Eliason, who put in some strong minutes during the non-conference schedule, averaged 15 minutes during his first two Big Ten game. He scored two points and had five rebounds at Illinoisand then had the same numbers in the loss at Michigan. He was 2-for-6 from the floor in the two games.

PLAYER NOTES

–F Ralph Sampson III, the only senior in the playing rotation with F Trevor Mbakwe gone for the season with a knee injury, had 22 points and nine rebounds in the double-overtime loss at Illinois, but scored just six points while grabbing 11 rebounds at Michigan. He is sixth in the Big Ten in blocked shots.

–G Julian Welch has started the last eight games and shared the team lead in scoring with forward Rodney Williams with 11 points at Michigan. Welch is fifth in the Big Ten in free throw percentage, sixth in 3-point field goal percentage.

–F Rodney Williams is second in the conference in blocked shots, third in steals and fourth in field goal percentage.

–F Trevor Mbakwe, who led the Big Ten in rebounding last season, tore the ACL in his right knee in a late November loss to Dayton and is out for the season. Mbakwe finished his junior season with 19 career double-doubles.