For the Gophers, Trevor Mbakwe’s injury has spun plenty of bad side effects.
There’s a chance it’s created at least one good one, too.
Throughout his career at Minnesota, we have seen a lot of Rodney Williams as a member of the supporting cast. He’s never looked fully comfortable. With team “stars” in the lineup he’s been able to, at times, hide in the shadows.
Wednesday night was the first time we saw Rodney Williams: leader and team veteran. We saw a version of him getting to be “the guy” for the first time.
And that version looked pretty good.
Williams showed sparks of improvement in two of his previous four games leading up to Virginia Tech. Against Mount St. Mary’s, he scored 12 points on 5-for-6 shooting. In the Old Spice Classic’s first game vs. DePaul, he led the team with 18 points, adding five rebounds and two assists.
In the last two games of the tournament, his offensive contributions again fell off.
Three things have changed since then.
1) Mbakwe went down, creating a major production and leadership hole.
2) Williams was moved to power forward.
3) The Gophers had no veteran stars on the court Wednesday night.
And in that formula, Williams excelled. In his new position at the 4-spot, Williams looked more at ease than he had all season. He got to the basket, he finished around the rim, he took good shots, he combined with Elliott Eliason for an effective high-low feed. In his first game at a new position and without Mbakwe to rely on, Williams finished with 14 points, eight rebounds, two blocks and two steals.
After the game, Williams seemed to take control of the press conference in a way he hasn’t yet done this season. Previously, he was typically on the platform with Mbakwe, and spent a lot of time echoing what the senior said. Wednesday, he seemed full of his own thoughts and said he was embracing his new veteran role.
“My teammates have full confidence in me,” he said. “They’ve been telling me ever since we got back from Orlando that this is my time, I really need to step up now because we lost our best player. It’s going to take a full team effort but in order for us to be successful, I really need to step up, to kind of try my best to fill Trevor’s role.”