Sampson 'tweaks' knee, status for Big Ten tourney opener in question
March 7, 2012 — 11:19pm
By Amelia Rayno
Ralph Sampson III "tweaked" his knee two days ago, Gophers coach Tubby Smith said on Wednesday, making his status questionable for Thursday's opening round game against Northwestern at the Big Ten tournament in Indianapolis.
Sampson hurt the knee in practice, Smith said, and had not practiced since. The senior was seen shooting free throws on the court behind Smith as he spoke.
Backup Elliott Eliason would be the expected replacement If Sampson were unable to play against Northwestern. The redshirt freshman has started four games this season -- when Sampson dealt with an ankle injury during the nonconference schedule, and made a positve impact in those games. Eliason, who is averaging 2.5 points and 3.6 rebounds a game, has had some big games for the Gophers but has scored a total of just four points and three rebounds in the previous two games.
Sampson has struggled in the second half of the conference season, but had a strong outing in the Gophers' last regular season game against Nebraska, which was also senior day, finishing with 12 points and five rebounds.
Julian Welch has been back in practice and is expected to play Thursday, Smith said. He did not qualify whether the junior would start or come off the bench.
This is Amelia Rayno's fifth season on the Gophers men's basketball beat. She learned college basketball in North Carolina (Go Tar Heels!), where fanhood is not an option. In 2010, she joined the Star Tribune after graduating from Boston's Emerson College, which sadly had no exciting D-I college hoops to latch onto. Amelia has also worked on the sports desk at the Boston Globe and interned at the Detroit News. Follow Rayno on Twitter @AmeliaRayno.
Given the rare break, coach Richard Pitino gave his team two days off immediately after and then rolled out what he dubbed a "fun" practice on Sunday before getting down to business on Monday and Tuesday.