This is Amelia Rayno's third 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

Gophers pregame: Minnesota hoping a clean slate in the Big Ten tournament brings new life

Posted by: Amelia Rayno under College basketball, Gophers players Updated: March 14, 2013 - 10:17 AM

The Gophers took a quick 7-2 lead in Thursday's opening Big Ten tournament quarterfinal, but Illinois came back to score 19 of the next 21 points. Trevor Mbakwe and Austin Hollins both were on the bench for most of the half after picking up their second personal fouls.

The Gophers shot 27 percent from the field in the first half and had 11 turnovers.

Come back to startribune.com after the game for updates.

 

Read my story on the tasks ahead forTrevor Mbakwe and Rodney Williams, and my advance for the Big Ten tournament -- which starts today, with the Gophers’ 11 a.m. matchup against Illinois -- here.

Rodney Williams could feel the collective exhale, he said, when the season ended.

The regular season has been rocky for the Gophers, to say the least, and it had been acknowledged both from players and from coach Tubby Smith that the team was suffering from a mental standpoint. Inconsistency – great wins followed by stunning losses – weighs on you at some point, and this team is feeling the burden.

Today, with a first-round matchup against Illinois, the Gophers have an opportunity to start the season anew, on a neutral court, with a blank record.

“Coming into it, and you lose two straight games, that’s kind of tough to come off of,” Williams said. “But when you’re going into tournament play, you get kind of a sigh of relief, because you’re basically starting from scratch. When you get those opportunities, you’ve got to make the best of them and hopefully we can do that.”

The last time the Gophers played Illiniois, they recorded a 57-53 loss in the only game that Williams has missed all season. He was dealing with a sore shoulder then – an injury he’s still wearing a sleeve for, but that isn’t bothering him as much – and Elliott Eliason started in his place.

Asked whether he felt he could be a difference-maker against the Illini, who the Gophers beat the first time around in Champaign, Williams replied:

“I definitely feel like I could make a difference – get out there on their 3-point shots and contest them a little bit. But we’ll see how it goes [Thursday].”

It’s no secret, though, that Williams’ NBA stock has been fading for the second half of the season, when he was supposed to, for once and for all, quiet his critics with some consistent domination. We’ve seen sparks, but more often, his performances have been uninspiring and occasionally lethargic.

His last seven outings have looked like this:

Vs. Wisconsin: 10 points, five rebounds
At Iowa: 0 points, 1 rebound
At Ohio State: 0 points, 1 rebound
Vs. Indiana: Seven points, five rebounds
Vs. Penn State: 10 points, seven rebounds
At Nebraska: 0 points, four rebounds
At Purdue: 13 points, six rebounds

The ups and downs have left his coach baffled as to how to squeeze the most out of his talented forward, who wows on some nights while disappearing on others.

“I’ve been trying for four years,” Smith said. “I think it’s just staying focused, just playing as hard as he can play, every minute and every second on the court. Not taking any time off, just every possession’s got to be all out. I think that’s it. We always tell guys, you can just play harder – that’s the key, just play as hard as you can play. … He’s an in-betweener. He’s not a great outside threat, he’s not a good inside threat. He’s a good all-around player, he’s got to play to his potential, he’s got to raise his level of play.”

If Williams can find the consistency he had during the non-conference schedule, the Gophers could be another step in the direction of a postseason run, that could help to bolster Williams’ draft resume, which is on the rocks, as well as Smith’s job security, which is in the same spot.

“There’s a burden,” Williams said. “But I can’t let that get to me. I can’t go out there worrying about that. I’ve just got to go out there and play and help out my team in any way they need me.”

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Team Irvin 7:15 PM
Team Carter
Miami 96 FINAL
Chicago 84
Oklahoma City 98 FINAL
Cleveland 108
Dallas 12 1st Qtr 4:08
New Orleans 18
Indiana 21 1st Qtr 2:02
Orlando 20
LA Clippers 21 1st Qtr 1:15
Phoenix 16
Minnesota 18 1st Qtr 2:41
Atlanta 21
Detroit 6:00 PM
Toronto
Milwaukee 6:00 PM
San Antonio
Boston 7:00 PM
Golden State
Washington 7:00 PM
Denver
Houston 8:30 PM
LA Lakers
Team Toews 7 2nd Prd 15:52
Team Foligno 6
South Florida 53 FINAL
Connecticut 66
Boston College 64 FINAL
Georgia Tech 62
Virginia 50 FINAL
Virginia Tech 47
Indiana 70 FINAL
Ohio State 82
Stony Brook 61 FINAL
Binghamton 54
Cincinnati 56 FINAL
UCF 46
Maine 70 FINAL
Hartford 61
Monmouth 64 FINAL
Manhattan 71
Fairfield 67 FINAL
Marist 73
Rowan 48 FINAL
Princeton 96
St Bonaventure 48 FINAL
Rhode Island 53
Duke 77 FINAL
St Johns 68
Saint Peters 69 FINAL
Siena 55
Drake 40 FINAL
Wichita State 74
Vermont 61 FINAL
UMass Lowell 50
Seton Hall 57 FINAL
Butler 77
NJIT 72 FINAL
South Alabama 55
Northern Iowa 54 FINAL
Illinois State 53
Louisville 80 FINAL
Pittsburgh 68
UMBC 52 2nd Half 2:48
Albany 67
Niagara 43 2nd Half 10:27
Iona 62
Notre Dame 5:30 PM
NC State
Belmont 5:30 PM
Tennessee St
Creighton 6:00 PM
Villanova
Northwestern 6:30 PM
Maryland
Washington 7:30 PM
Utah
Senior-North 34 FINAL
Senior-South 13
Seton Hall 99 FINAL
Georgetown 85
St Johns 69 FINAL
Villanova 81
Arkansas 58 FINAL
Florida 72
Maine 56 FINAL
UMBC 42
Vanderbilt 55 FINAL
Alabama 52
Lafayette 60 FINAL
Lehigh 65
UCF 61 FINAL
SMU 57
Utah 51 FINAL
Washington 63
James Madison 73 FINAL
Coll of Charleston 53
Delaware 56 FINAL
Drexel 61
Hofstra 56 FINAL
William & Mary 57
Hartford 58 FINAL
Albany 82
Binghamton 54 FINAL
Stony Brook 67
Towson 63 FINAL
UNC-Wilmington 71
Wake Forest 80 FINAL
(17) Florida State 110
Georgia Tech 68 FINAL
Virginia 62
(22) Georgia 51 FINAL
(5) Tennessee 59
Drake 79 FINAL
Evansville 62
Iona 80 FINAL
Canisius 62
Fairfield 33 FINAL
Monmouth 59
Northwestern 75 FINAL
Penn State 76
Wisconsin 71 FINAL
Michigan State 77
Ohio State 79 FINAL
Purdue 71
Northern Iowa 57 FINAL
Indiana State 55
Butler 58 FINAL
Xavier 54
Creighton 93 FINAL
Marquette 75
Providence 42 FINAL
DePaul 90
Northeastern 77 FINAL
Elon 80
(2) Connecticut 96 FINAL
Cincinnati 31
Oregon 78 FINAL
Arizona 81
Bradley 46 FINAL
Loyola-Chicago 45
NC State 49 FINAL
(23) Syracuse 66
(7) Maryland 84 FINAL
Indiana 74
Illinois State 35 FINAL
Missouri State 58
Colorado 68 FINAL
Washington St 73
Tulane 45 FINAL
South Florida 64
(14) Kentucky 83 FINAL
Missouri 69
(9) Oregon State 68 FINAL
(13) Arizona State 57
Vermont 63 FINAL
UMass Lowell 72
Iowa State 53 2nd Half 6:38
(8) Texas 57
Southern Ill 56 2nd Half 3:30
Wichita State 73
(15) Duke 46 2nd Half 14:50
(12) North Carolina 47
Miami-Florida 34 2nd Half 12:24
(4) Louisville 42
(21) Minnesota 31 2nd Half 20:00
(25) Rutgers 37
California 7 1st Half 9:38
UCLA 19
(11) Stanford 7:00 PM
USC

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