Smith suggests Mbakwe could start Saturday

  • Updated: December 21, 2012 - 10:20 PM
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Trevor Mbakwe pulled down a defensive rebound.

Photo: Kyndell Harkness, Star Tribune

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The change that Gophers fans have been anticipating since the beginning of the season could actually happen as soon as Saturday.

Men's basketball coach Tubby Smith suggested Friday that he might move star forward Trevor Mbakwe into the starting lineup in the near future, possibly Saturday vs. Lafayette.

"Obviously you're getting a better athlete in the lineup, and you want to play with your best people on the court," Smith said of the still-hypothetical move. "We know how good Trevor is. ... It's a balancing act about how guys respond, how does Elliott [Eliason] respond to coming off the bench, how does Trevor respond to being in the starting lineup. It's a wait-and-see thing -- if it happens."

Mbakwe has come off the bench since the start of the season after missing most of last season because of a torn ACL. Recently, Smith has increased the sixth-year senior's minutes with the starting group, and Mbakwe has excelled. In the team's last outing, a 70-57 victory over North Dakota State, he had 14 points and 18 rebounds in 21 minutes.

"He hasn't talked to me directly about it, but yeah, he's been working me out with our starting five pretty often," Mbakwe said. "I'm just going to keep doing what I'm doing and if it happens, it happens. If not, I've just got to keep playing the way I've been playing."

After the game against Lafayette, the Gophers start conference play with a home game against Michigan State on New Year's Eve.

AMELIA RAYNO

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