Highlight slam in Williams' final Williams Arena game

  • Article by: AMELIA RAYNO , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 3, 2013 - 7:36 AM

Rodney Williams Jr. dunks with Penn State's Patrick Ackerman defending

Photo: Kyndell Harkness, Star Tribune

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With four years of highlight reel-caliber dunks already in the rear view, Rodney Williams couldn't help but hunger for one more at Williams Arena.

It was senior day, after all. The announced crowd of 12,562 -- one that had grown accustomed to dazzling displays gifted to them on the regular -- was practically begging for it.

The lob from Julian Welch was late, and too far to the left considering the forward was coming from the right.

But if you're Williams, that's just about perfect.


He reached out his left hand and snagged the offering, slamming it through the net and sending fans into a frenzy and the Gophers well on their way to a 73-44 victory over Penn State.

"I just wanted to make sure the ball went in," Williams, who finished with 10 points and seven rebounds, said of the play in which he seemed to defy gravity to make the shot. "I wasn't expecting the pass to be like that, but it made it look all that much better, I guess."

Coach Tubby Smith doesn't often admit to seeing dunks in games -- the theory is he doesn't like to encourage the flair -- but Smith wouldn't deny Williams one last slam the Barn would see from the high-flyer.

"I think he caught it with his left hand which was amazing, Smith said. "But Rodney, he's spectacular when it comes to that stuff. He just has another gear that most athletes don't have."

Welch bounces back

With Welch struggling offensively all season, his minutes had started to wane. Since late January, the senior guard had played at least 10 minutes only three times in nine games coming into Saturday, and he didn't play at all against Indiana.

But given the opportunity to start in Smith's senior lineup, Welch made the most of it, scoring the first five points and finishing with a season high in both points (10) and assists (seven).

With Welch thriving, Smith kept him at point guard for most of the game, handing him 24 minutes, as many as he has had all season.

"Definitely a great feeling," Welch said. "Rodney, Trevor [Mbakwe] and Austin [Hollins] just made me feel more comfortable, talking to me, when they called my name and calmed me down and whatnot."

Protecting the ball

For the second consecutive game, the Gophers limited their turnovers to 10. For a team that regularly committed them in the high teens, that's no small accomplishment.

Smith attributed the shift to using a less-complicated half-court offense, the flex, which the team often used a year ago during its NIT run. That and maybe some drills Smith would prefer to keep to himself.

"We did some things that made them realize, 'Hey, we can't afford to turn the ball over,' " he said. "We sort of narrowed what we're doing offensively as well. We limited what they could do with the ball."

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