After the Gophers’ 45-44 loss to Wisconsin in Madison on Saturday, Trevor Mbakwe talked to media as he cradled a bag of ice over his right wrist.
But he quickly dismissed the injury beneath – one that he sustained on the final play of the game, when Mike Bruesewitz fouled him with less than two seconds remaining.
“I’m not going to miss any games for this,” he said.
But it did cause him enough pain at the time to prevent him from putting up those critical two free throws at the end. Now, Mbakwe is not a great free throw shooter – but if the depth of his injury was an act, it was some pretty good acting. Looking at replays with Mbakwe on the bench, he kept looking down at the hand and wincing.
As it was, since the shots from the stripe could determine the game, Wisconsin got to pick, and the Badgers picked Rodney Williams, who came in shooting 64.9 percent from the line this season compared to Mbakwe’s 63.3, by the way.
Who knows whether Mbakwe would have connected on that last one, or the first one either.
But what about the injury? This is the second time in two games that Mbakwe has had issues with the hand. In the second half against Northwestern, Mbakwe took a hard fall, landed strangely on the wrist and laid on the court for nearly a minute before walking off.
After that game, Mbakwe told the media it was something he’d been rehabbing, even though we hadn’t heard about any problems with it previously.
This morning on the media teleconference, coach Tubby Smith said that Mbakwe was fine and practiced yesterday, but that he's just been dealing with some soreness.
"I guess he got whacked on it pretty good there, [against Wisconsin] but he did shoot that shot," Smith said. "That’s a reactionary thing. It’s just get it up there quickly, but I guess after he had a chance to think about it it really bothered him so he couldn’t shoot those free throws."
Imagine, though, if Mbakwe was more seriously injured -- the Gophers would be in even more trouble than they already are. While the frontcourt was lauded for its depth at the beginning of the season, that storyline hasn’t played out in season. Andre Ingram has done some good things for the Gophers, drawing charges and grabbing some rebounds, but he is not much of a scorer. Elliott Eliason’s sheer length has been utilized again, but overall the sophomore has struggled after a solid end of his freshman year. Mo Walker has a great touch, but it’s become pretty clear that until he trims down, he won’t be playing many minutes with this team.