Minnesota blows out North Dakota St., now faces injury concerns

  • Article by: MYRON P. MEDCALF , Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 25, 2010 - 6:42 AM

The Gophers improved to 6-0, but some injury concerns crept into the picture.

North Dakota State’s Marshall Bjorklund and the basketball got lost in a sea of Gophers defenders.

Photo: Marlin Levison, Star Tribune

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The 15th-ranked Gophers need this holiday weekend.

They've played four tough games in seven days, including three in the Caribbean.

In their last matchup, an 84-65 victory over North Dakota State on Wednesday, Rodney Williams left the game in the first half with an ankle injury. He returned to the sideline with a walking boot on his right foot.

Coach Tubby Smith said Williams will get an MRI on his ankle Friday.

"I felt it pop a couple times, so we'll see," Williams said as he left the arena.

It's just the latest injury scare in recent days.

Forward Trevor Mbakwe, who scored 12 points and grabbed seven rebounds against the Bison in his sixth consecutive game with at least 10 points and seven rebounds, fell awkwardly during his team's victory over West Virginia in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off title game Sunday, the Gophers' third game in four days. He left the game but returned within a few minutes.

Blake Hoffarber utilized an off-the-dribble midrange jumper during a 24-point performance (10-for-16 shooting) that led all scorers. But he struggled with his cuts on defense after tweaking an ankle in practice Tuesday.

And Al Nolen, who led the Gophers (6-0) with five assists and five steals, is nursing a foot injury, Smith said after the game.

"Hopefully this injury bug doesn't hit us and hurt us too much and these guys can get back soon," he said.

Hoffarber said he's not worried about injuries affecting his team's momentum. But the Thanksgiving break will help, as the Gophers prepare for Monday's matchup against Virginia in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge.

The Puerto Rico Tip-Off took a physical toll on the team, he said.

"It definitely wears at your legs, but I think Coach [Smith] did a good job of making the practices a little shorter," Hoffarber said. "Hopefully this vacation almost -- it's not a vacation because we're going to be practicing -- but this time away from playing so many games in a row is going to help us out a lot."

The possibility of injury makes depth one of the Gophers' most important qualities. Gophers reserves scored 33 points against the Bison (3-2).

Freshman Austin Hollins scored eight points and finished with four assists as a fill-in for Williams. Even Mo Walker, a 6-10, 300-pound power forward, sank a pair of three-point shots that drew the most vociferous reaction from an announced crowd of 12,056.

And Colton Iverson recorded nine points, 11 rebounds and two blocks in 17 minutes. "There's always foul trouble or somebody could just be having an off night, and no matter what night it is everybody has to be able to come out and play their top game," he said.

The Gophers hit 52 percent of their field goals and 57 percent of their three-pointers in the first half and led 42-26 at halftime.

But the Bison, a team with eight Minnesotans on the roster, wouldn't quit. They started the second half on an 18-8 tear that cut a 16-point halftime deficit to six points.

The Gophers responded by locking up the paint (12 blocks) and forcing North Dakota State to take more difficult shots from outside (the Bison shot 37 percent). The Gophers closed the game on a 34-21 run.

They'll rest on Thanksgiving.

"We've got [Thursday] off, so that'll be nice," Hoffarber said.


    Up next: 6 p.m. Monday vs. Virginia

    Williams Arena • TV: ESPN2 (830-AM)

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