Welcome to Rodney’s World

Posted: December 4, 2011 by Kodi in BBall, Gopher Redemption, NCAA

Minnesota continues to win without their star player Forward Trevor Mbakwe

But is Rodney Williams blossoming into the Gophers new go to guy?

The Gophers held their opponents to just 40 points and it wasn’t some scrub mid-major, it was USC!

The Gophers continued their journey deeper into the basketball season without their prolific PF Trevor Mbakwe, hopefully someday I can start without that sentence, but I can’t be more emphatic about how important he was to our team. His departure has put a ton of pressure on F Rodney Williams, although F/C Ralph Sampson III was dressed he missed his 2nd straight game and that put a lot of stress on freshman C Elliot Eliason.

The USC Trojans traveled to Dinkytown to face off against Tubby Smith coached Golden Gophers led by potential NBA lottery pick C Dewayne Dedmon and Muggsy Bogues lookalike Maurice Jones. Minnesota has had a hard time starting games off fast but they were able to get an early lead last Wednesday and were able to do it again versus USC. The Gophers jumped up 10-3 behind a couple of three pointers by G Julian Welch and G Austin Hollins.

Minnesota has had a difficult time with the three point line, both defending it and making shots from behind it, but they were successful on Saturday. It looked like it could get ugly early though because 3 of the Trojans 4 made baskets were three pointers, 2 made by Maurice Jones. Jones second three pointer gave USC a 11-10 lead, which turned out to be their last of the game because the Gophers turned it on. Minnesota would finish the final 11:29 on a 18-3 run which as capped off by an incredible steal and 360 degree dunk by Williams, his most impressive of the year, followed by a  huge 4 point play by G Andre Hollins.

“I just wanted to do something to get the crowd in the game. We were up at the time, but I didn’t think the crowd was into it. I felt like it gave us a little boost” Williams said to reporters after the game. “I didn’t know what I was going to do. I think I need to find something different to do, because people watching are probably like ‘he already did that’” Williams said about his first half dunk. Tubby Smith claims to have missed the entirety of the Williams dunk and when he was asked about it in his postgame presser he said “a 360? Oh, well good for him”. If you didn’t see the dunk you need to go an youtube it because it may be his best of the entire year.

Minnesota slept walked through the entire second half and scored just 2 points in the final 4:48 of the game but were still able to walk away with a 55-40 victory. Rodney Williams was able to throw down another dunk midway through the second and the Gophers hit 7 layups, 3 three pointers and a single jump shot by Chip Armelin in the second half. After letting up 3 three pointers in the first 5 minutes the Gophers didn’t allow another one for the entire game and USC finished 3-11 from beyond the arc.

The Gophers were able to hold USC to just 40 point, their second in a row allowing less than 60 points and 5th of the season, but USC has a notoriously inept offense. USC has scored 40 or less in 1 other game this season and their season high for total points is 65 in a 1 point loss to the UNLV Runnin’ Rebels. They have a .432 field goal percentage on the year ranking 179th in all of college basketball. They also shoot a troubling 29% from beyond the arc, while Maurice Jones is their best player with a .373% . USC is bad, like really really bad, but this was still a game Minnesota won as they transition to life without Mbakwe.

The Gophers did shoot much better from beyond the arc making 6 of their 13 attempts and Guards Austin and Andre Hollins and Julian Welch shot a combined 6-9 from three point range. Welch led the team in scoring for the 2nd game in a row recording 16 of Minnesota’s 55 points. Welch was 6-8 from the field, 2-3 from three point range, 2-2 from the line, pulled down 4 boards, dropped 6 dimes and stole 2 balls. Minnesota also improved their free throw shooting going a perfect 9-9 as a team after going 8-15 against the Hokies earlier in the week.

The biggest difference is clearly F Rodney Williams, who had two big dunks but nothing more explosive than his 360 slam. “Rodney has played outstanding. Moving him back to that four spot here he can use his athleticism and quickness has been good for him” HC Tubby Smith said “He’s really doing an outstanding job of rebounding the ball. He’s been very steady”. Smith went on to say that the Mbakwe injury was “the best thing to happen to us” going on to explain “to bounce back the way we did. You hurt for Trevor, but you have to move on quickly. And we’ve moved on quickly”.

Williams has great potential and would be even more explosive if he could find some sliver of a jump shot but until then I’m fine with him posting up in the hole and waiting for the rock. Williams has been the Gophers best rebounder since Mbakwe’s injury and coming into the game he had just 19 rebounds in the first 7 games. In the last two he had pulled down 17 rebounds and led the Gophers in each game. Williams is scoring and getting rebounds, which is exactly what Trevor was doing, although they are different players Rodney has embraced his new role and so far it’s working.

So far.

Minnesota has a few more games before they head into Big Ten play and I don’t think that this low scoring, solid defense, minimal mistakes scheme will work with this personnel. Minnesota needs to figure out their offense and they need to do it fast. Minnesota plays Appalachian State at home on Tuesday then face St. Peter, Central Michigan and North Dakota State in the next few weeks. Those are all likely going to be wins and Minnesota could be 12-1 going into Champagne, Illinois to face the Fightin’ Illini two days after Christmas.

In the end Tubby kept it positive as he should “it was a good win for us, a team like Southern Cal, a team that has some things going on. It was good to get a in today no matter who we play”. He went on to say it was a “solid effort all the way around. I thought our defense was outstanding, we rebounded the ball well, we played together” and in the end the Gophers are “happy with the win and hoping to get Ralph back”. It’s not a rip to the guys playing now because Tubby praised them saying their doing a “fantastic job” and that it’s important that “they have accepted their roles and responsibilities. Our bench has played quality minutes and that has been a big help. Our bench play has been excellent”.

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