Coach Tubby Smith wouldn’t say for sure whether Rodney Williams would be back in the starting lineup in Thursday’s game against Wisconsin, but the Gophers coach does expect the forward to be back in some capacity.
Williams sat out all of Minnesota’s last game against Illinois due to a tweaked left shoulder after injuring it trying to break free of a screen in a practice the day before.
“I’ve got a little pain, but nothing I can’t play through tomorrow,” said Williams, who estimated his shoulder is at about 85 percent now.
The Minneapolis-native also said he felt he could have played at least some on Thursday but that the coaching staff didn’t want to force it or make anything worse.
Instead, the Gophers started Elliott Eliason at center, sliding Trevor Mbakwe over to power forward. The big men played really well together with Eliason effectively feeding Mbakwe high-to-low until the Illini started doubling Mbakwe in the second half.
“Elliott is a ball mover,” said Smith, noting he was pleased with Eliason’s start on Thursday. “He’s a guy that doesn’t hold the ball long. He’s looking to make everybody better.”
Smith indicated that Elliason could remain in the starting lineup – with or without Williams, naming struggling Joe Coleman as a possible candidate to come off the bench in that scenario.
“Joe has been struggling from the outside and, I think, sometimes that affects other parts of your game. But again, Joe is a guy that does some good things for us when he’s in there.”
Most likely, it will be a gametime decision.
Other notes from tonight’s media access:
- Smith said he thinks Coleman’s ankle sprain might be lingering some, as well as some hamstring issues. “He never really fully recovered from that ankle sprain, and that’s one thing you can see,” Smith said. “And he’s got these hamstring issues that he’s dealt with all year long. But he gets treatment, and he practices. But sometimes I wonder if he’s going all out, because you know at the beginning of the year he was dunking the ball, he was going to the basket, and that’s something he hasn’t done of late.”
- Smith said Wally Ellenson’s Achilles Tendon strain hasn’t healed the way he’s expected early. “He hasn’t been able to run at all because it’s still sore and I thought it would be ready by now,” Smith said, noting the Gophers trainers and doctors were monitoring it. Ellenson injured his Achilles in the game at Michigan State.