Gophers will have Battle on their hands at Penn State

  • Article by: MYRON P. MEDCALF , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 17, 2011 - 7:01 AM

Senior standout Talor Battle has accounted for nearly a third of Penn State's scoring during Big Ten games.

Guard Talor Battle scored 19 points and went 4-for-5 from three-point range in Penn State’s home victory over Northwestern on Sunday. The win broke a three-game losing streak.

Photo: Christopher Weddle, AP

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Blake Hoffarber casually rattled off the weapons available to Talor Battle, whom the Gophers men's basketball team will try to corral when it faces Penn State on Thursday night in State College, Pa.

"They've got one of the best guards in the country in Talor Battle," Hoffarber said. "He can pretty much do everything. He can shoot from the outside, dribble, pull up, drive. So if we just stop him, I think he's the main focal point of their team."

But that might demand some luck, he admitted.

"Hopefully, he's having an off night shooting," he said.

No player in the Big Ten does more for his team offensively than Battle, who has accounted for 32 percent of his team's 62.3 points per game in conference play.

He has recorded double figures in 20 consecutive games. And with seven more assists, he'll become the first Big Ten player to reach 2,000 points, 500 assists and 500 rebounds.

"I just try to play hard, fearless for 40 minutes," Battle said. "I just keep coming at people. ... I know I've got to bring that energy."

Battle, who's third in the Big Ten with an average of 20.2 points per game, is the first obstacle in a point-guard gantlet that the Gophers must conquer in their final five regular-season games -- and that's without the injured Al Nolen. Tests against Michigan State's Kalin Lucas, Michigan's Darius Morris and Northwestern's Michael Thompson will follow. Then the Gophers have another matchup against Battle on March 6.

"We've always been impressed with Talor Battle," coach Tubby Smith said. "He's one of my favorite players in the way he competes and how hard he plays. He's having a very good year. ... So we're not going to stop him, we just need to know where he is on the court."

Battle remains one of the most underrated players in America, but that'll change if he leads the Nittany Lions to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2001, a goal the senior believes his team will accomplish.

"My goal was to get to the NCAA tournament," he said. "We still have an opportunity."

His determination fueled a 65-41 victory Sunday over Northwestern, a victory that ended a three-game losing skid. He scored 19 points, went 4-for-5 from beyond the arc and also recorded two steals.

"Even with your best guy on him, he's a real challenge," Northwestern coach Bill Carmody said.

With Battle leading the way, the Nittany Lions also have knocked off Wisconsin, Illinois and Michigan State at the Bryce Jordan Center, where they're 5-2 in Big Ten competition.

Smith said he will employ a 2-3 zone for the majority of the game and start the three "bigs" -- Ralph Sampson III, Colton Iverson and Trevor Mbakwe -- a setup he's favored with Nolen sidelined.

"It's important that no one guy is going to be guarding him," Smith said.

Battle is capable of exploiting the gaps in that scheme (his 2.77 three-pointers per game leads the Big Ten). He twice scored 31 points against Michigan, which relies on the zone. But the Nittany Lions lost both games.

"Just focus where he is," Hoffarber said. "We've gotta talk every time he's cutting corner, cutting middle. We've gotta talk [and] say, 'He's coming through, coming through.'"

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