The dunks came quickly for Rodney Williams at the start of the Gophers’ 84-65 win over Nebraska, and within seconds, it was clear this was a different game for him. He aggressively attacked the boards, drew fouls, took over offensively, took the ball to the hoop.
“Getting those dunks, it definitely helps getting the frustration out,” Williams said.
But it wasn’t just Williams that was different – it was the offense surrounding him. It was obvious early that a lot of the Gophers plays were running through the athletic forward. Coach Tubby Smith said afterward that he had tweaked the offense, leading into that game with the struggles of Williams in mind.
But an explicit directive of “get the ball to Williams” was never uttered. Rather, the intentional spacing of a more spread offense helped open things up for Williams, who naturally was the recipient of more passes.
“We didn’t necessarily talk about going to him,” Austin Hollins said. “I think when we spread out the floor a little bit, it opened it up for him. We were setting a lot more screens, we were moving a lot more on offense. When you get that movement, it makes the defense work, and I think he got open through that.”
The other aspect, Smith noted, was that without a strong post presence with the Huskers, Williams wasn’t getting muscled around the paint. But despite that fact, it’s hard to deny he looked as good as he’s ever looked for the Gophers simply in terms of aggressiveness and efficiency.
And that made the half-court offense look better as a whole. Minnesota utilized ball screens much more than they have in the recent past and emphasized constant, fluid motion to get guys open. Now, that it was so effective against Nebraska certainly isn’t a fair indicator of how it will work against the rest of the Big Ten, but the fact is, the Gophers simply LOOKED better. The effort was there. The movement was there. The aggressive screening was there. Those aspects will be challenged going forward, but there’s nothing bad about getting more of that.
“We weren’t passing the ball well [leading up to the Nebraska game],” Smith said. “It makes us pass the ball right away. It takes a lot of pressure off Andre to get us in something and score. And now we just knew what we were running and we didn’t have to call a bunch of plays. It was just more simple.”
For Williams – a guy whose game lives and dies with confidence – the first couple baskets were huge. From there, the intensity took over. If the Gophers can continue to get that kind of effort (if not always 23 points) from him, the results would be invaluable.
“That was a big key for us in tonight’s game, just to get moving on offense more, to get more space and that worked for us,” he said.