The Timberwolves are fortunate they were able to sign Al Jefferson to a five-year, $65 million contract extension before the season started. Otherwise, his great performances recently would cost team owner Glen Taylor a lot more money.

"Well, you know, I'm just glad we got it done," Wolves Vice President of Basketball Operations Kevin McHale said. "I think when I saw Al play every day in October, I just said, 'This guy's a lot better than I thought he was.'

"And I thought he was pretty good. Now he has been on a roll. His last two, three weeks have just been phenomenal. I mean, he's got to be averaging high 20s [points], 15 rebounds, and shooting at such a high percentage."

McHale said Jefferson, who is making $2.48 million this season, has been a godsend for the team. He scored 18 points Sunday in a 105-82 loss against Toronto, and had scored 40, 20, 26, 25, 33 and 18 points in the six games before that.

"So, he's just really been great, it's been fun," McHale said. "He's a great kid, too. I think when people get to know him, he's got a great personality, so it's all been positive with Al."

McHale also sang the praises of Ryan Gomes and Sebastian Telfair, who like Jefferson came here from the Celtics in the Kevin Garnett trade.

The word is Theo Ratliff, the veteran of the group coming over in the trade, is practicing daily after having knee surgery. He is expected back in a couple of weeks, and once he returns, his shot-blocking ability will make the Wolves much better.

Over the years, McHale has taken a lot of criticism from the media, but without a doubt the trade with the Celtics was one great deal, and paved the way for the team to improve.

Chris Richard, the Wolves' second-round draft choice from Florida who has been playing with Sioux Falls of the NBA Development League, is averaging 11 points and 11.3 rebounds per game and will be back with the Wolves soon.

Former Gopher Kris Humphries is averaging 6.2 points and 4.1 rebounds per game this season for the Toronto Raptors. He scored four points in eight minutes Sunday against the Wolves.

Humphries, who is making $2.5 million this year, recently signed a contract extension with Toronto.

"He's just a baby at 22, with a good future," said Raptors coach Sam Mitchell, the former Wolves player. Toronto has beaten the Wolves seven consecutive times, dating to 2005.

Tollackson optimistic

About the Gophers' 63-50 victory over Iowa on Saturday, senior center Spencer Tollackson, who scored 11 points and played well, said: "The game was ugly. But like I said after the game in the locker room, we'll take eight more of them just like it."

About his free-throw shooting that has improved because coach Tubby Smith and others have changed his technique: "I'm 10-for-11 in the past two games." Tollackson missed all seven of his free throws in a 65-60 loss to Indiana on Jan. 17.

About the many starting lineups the Gophers have used this season: "I think Coach kind of puts an emphasis on the older guys playing a lot on the road and getting more of the minutes, and then at home kind of getting everybody involved. I think it's been crucial for our older guys to kind of step up and play more consistently on the road and then when you're at home, when things are more comfortable, those younger guys can kind of step up and do things. I'm not saying they can't, but not necessarily would be able to do on the road."

About the chances of the team to make it to the NCAA tournament: "It's a very realistic goal for us. I think with the fight and the talent that this team has, as well as the coaching, I think that's still our ultimate goal, to make the NCAA tournament. But we're still looking at this thing one game at a time, like Coach said again today, 'It's never as good as it seems, and it's never as bad as it seems.' It was a great win [against Iowa], but we need to bounce back and try to get this one on Tuesday against Illinois."


Smith is naturally happy about his Gophers men's basketball team winning at Northwestern and then beating Iowa at home. "Two games in a row doesn't make a season, but obviously it's a start," he said. "If we want to have an opportunity to stay in this [Big Ten] race ... then every game is paramount. It's a sense of urgency that we've got to play with, and I thought our guys did that [vs. Iowa]."

Iowa basketball coach Todd Lickliter is happy with two Minnesota high school seniors he has recruited: "We're very pleased to get Anthony Tucker [Minnetonka] and Andrew Brommer [Rosemount], two very nice players. We're excited about them, and we think that they're going to have a great career at Iowa. We like the way they play the game, very good team players." reported that Bloomington Jefferson junior quarterback Moses Alipate verbally committed to play for the Gophers on Sunday. Alipate is rated as the No. 57 prospect in the country and is the top-ranked recruit in the state of Minnesota for 2009.

Former Gophers hockey winger Kyle Okposo, who left school early to turn pro, has four goals and nine assists in 13 games for the New York Islanders' American Hockey League affiliate, the Bridgeport Sound Tigers. ... Former MSU Mankato winger Tim Jackman also has four and nine assists in 18 games for the Tigers. ... Another former MSU Mankato standout, Ryan Carter of White Bear Lake, scored his third career NHL score in a 3-2 victory over Detroit on Sunday. The 6-1, 203-pound winger scored his first two career NHL goals against New Jersey Devils goalie Martin Brodeur in a 2-1 victory Friday night and now has three goals and three assists in his past 14 games.

Ex-Gophers basketball forward Rick Rickert will miss the rest of the season for the New Zealand Breakers because of a back problem. He played in 13 games this season.

Cole Aldrich, the highly recruited Bloomington Jefferson basketball player, is averaging 7.5 minutes per game for Kansas (23-1) in Big 12 Conference play and is averaging 2.3 points and 3.3 rebounds. He had a season-high nine rebounds in Kansas' 90-71 victory last week over Missouri. ... Romain Martin, the former Minneapolis North guard, was leading his Eastern Illinois team in scoring (13.6 average) through the first half of the season but has missed six of the past 10 games because of a foot problem. ... Rico Tucker, who left the Gophers to transfer to Pepperdine, has scored 16, 12, 15, 10, six and 11 points in his past six games, raising his scoring average to 9.9 points.

Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on WCCO AM-830 at 6:40, 7:40 and 8:40 a.m. and on his Podcast twice a week at