Reusse: U's Williams loves home crowd, but savors Big Ten road victories

  • Article by: PATRICK REUSSE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: January 17, 2013 - 11:21 AM
hide

Rodney Williams

Photo: Marlin Levison, Star Tribune

CameraStar Tribune photo galleries

Cameraview larger

The prestige of winning a regular-season championship in a major basketball conference has been diminished over the past couple of decades. The results of the conference tournaments often get more attention than the regular- season standings.

College basketball has become about what happens in the single-elimination, neutral-site postseason, rather than what occurs during the 2 1/2 months when teams are playing in either loudly supportive home arenas or hostile road environments.

Yet when it comes to a conference such as the Big Ten, the pursuit of a conference title over an 18-game grind carries much more nobility than does attaining a degree of success in the one-game crapshoot of postseason play.

Confirmation of this view was sought from the Gophers' Rodney Williams during a media session Wednesday inside the Sports Pavilion.

Williams is a senior forward. He will play in his 119th game for the Gophers on Thursday night. It will be start No. 88, including 79 in a row. The visit from No. 5 Michigan will be the biggest -- and surely the loudest -- of those games.

Rodney and his teammates are hungry for a Big Ten regular-season title, even if those things are not honored as much nationally as when the Gophers won their last (on the court) in 1997.

"It is definitely a big goal for us, to win a championship," Williams said. "It's the biggest test you can have: to go on the road, face the crowd, and come out with a win.

"You have to be road warriors to win in the conference season."

Michigan did win a Big Ten opener at Northwestern, but that hardly counts. The Wolverines' first attempt as road warriors failed with Sunday's 56-53 loss at Ohio State. They get another shot inside what is sure to be an old-fashioned Williams Arena madhouse.

The Gophers split last week on the road: a nice 84-67 victory at Illinois, an 88-81 loss at Indiana. If the Gophers can win Thursday, they have the advantage of not being required to give Michigan a rematch in Ann Arbor.

"The loudest it has been in the Barn since I've been here was the Michigan State game [Dec. 31]," Williams said. "I think the crowd's going to turn that up a notch for Michigan."

Everyone enjoys playing in front of home fans. It's on the road where titles are decided. After Thursday, seven of the Gophers' last 13 will be played at Northwestern, Wisconsin, Michigan State, Iowa, Ohio State, Nebraska and Purdue.

There's some cake there, but those four between Northwestern and Nebraska -- that's where a senior (Williams) or two (Trevor Mbakwe) can show teammates how to deal with the hostility.

"It was tough when I first got here -- playing on the road in the Big Ten," Williams said. "You come from playing in high school gyms with 1,000 people at the most, to having 15,000 people screaming at you."

Does he enjoy that now? "You'd rather play at home, but it's special to go on the road and win," Williams said.

Obviously, Rodney and the Gophers don't want Michigan to leave Minneapolis feeling special. And what's amazing is that -- after two seasons of complete Big Ten drudgery -- the Gophers stand as three-point favorites to beat a Michigan team that would've been rated No. 1 if it had won at Ohio State.

What is the source of this mighty Minnesota turnaround, beyond the return to health and a sixth year of eligibility for Mbakwe?

"It goes back to the NIT run we made after last season," Williams said. "We had a lot of young guys, and I think getting to the finals in New York proved to us that we were capable of showing up and playing winning basketball."

The starting five can be as good as the Big Ten has to offer right now: Mbakwe the bruiser, Williams the elevator man, Joe Coleman the slasher, Austin Hollins the defender and occasional three-point bomber, and Andre Hollins, the sophomore talent who will engage Michigan's tremendous Trey Burke in what could be a memorable duel of guards.

Thursday night should be fun.

"It will be," Rodney Williams said of his 119th and most-hyped game as a Gopher.

Patrick Reusse can be heard noon-4 weekdays on 1500-AM. preusse@startribune.com

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions

ADVERTISEMENT

Houston 1 FINAL
Miami 1
Philadelphia 1 FINAL
Minnesota 7
St. Louis 3 FINAL
Detroit 4
Baltimore - WP: T. Wilson 10 FINAL
NY Yankees - LP: S. Baker 2
Boston 9 FINAL
Tampa Bay 6
Toronto 3 FINAL
Pittsburgh 8
Atlanta 5 FINAL
Toronto 3
Washington 2 FINAL
NY Mets 10
Chicago Cubs 5 FINAL
Cincinnati 9
San Diego 3 FINAL
Texas 2
San Francisco 9 FINAL
Seattle 8
Colorado 4 FINAL
Chicago Cubs 18
Cleveland 3 FINAL
Milwaukee 2
Oakland 10 FINAL
Chicago WSox 4
Los Angeles 5 FINAL
LA Angels 4
Kansas City 10 FINAL
Arizona 5
Atlanta 100 FINAL
Charlotte 115
New York 80 FINAL
Chicago 111
Golden State 108 FINAL
Milwaukee 95
Oklahoma City 89 FINAL
Utah 94
Denver 114 FINAL
Portland 120
Nashville 4 FINAL
Washington 3
Arizona 2 FINAL
Pittsburgh 3
San Jose 3 FINAL(SO)
Philadelphia 2
Anaheim 3 FINAL
NY Islanders 2
NY Rangers 2 FINAL
Boston 4
Tampa Bay 0 FINAL
Detroit 4
New Jersey 1 FINAL
Carolina 3
Florida 2 FINAL(OT)
Montreal 3
Ottawa 3 FINAL(OT)
Toronto 4
Los Angeles 1 FINAL
Minnesota 4
Columbus 4 FINAL
St. Louis 2
Buffalo 3 FINAL
Colorado 5
Dallas 4 FINAL(OT)
Vancouver 3
Arizona 78 FINAL
Wisconsin 85
Canisius 73 FINAL
NJIT 78
Notre Dame 66 FINAL
Kentucky 68
San Jose 1 FINAL
New England 2
Orlando City 2 FINAL
Montreal 2
Los Angeles 0 FINAL
D.C. 1
Sporting Kansas City 1 FINAL
New York City 0
Red Bull New York 2 FINAL
Columbus 1
Portland 1 FINAL
Vancouver FC 2
Colorado 0 FINAL
Houston 0
Seattle 0 FINAL
FC Dallas 0
Texas 54 FINAL
(1) Connecticut 105
Dayton 82 FINAL
(8) Louisville 66
(16) Duke 55 FINAL
(4) Maryland 65
Gonzaga 69 FINAL
(6) Tennessee 73
Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

question of the day

Poll: Who is your favorite team in the NCAA men's hockey tournament?

Weekly Question

ADVERTISEMENT

 
Close