This is Amelia Rayno's third season on the Gophers men's basketball beat. She learned college basketball in North Carolina (Go Tar Heels!), where fanhood is not an option. In 2010, she joined the Star Tribune after graduating from Boston's Emerson College, which sadly had no exciting D-I college hoops to latch onto. Amelia has also worked on the sports desk at the Boston Globe and interned at the Detroit News.

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Mbakwe needs to be the leader if this team is to be successful ... and he knows it

Posted by: Amelia Rayno under College basketball, Gophers players Updated: March 13, 2013 - 3:10 PM



Trevor Mbakwe’s attitude after Gophers practice today was refreshing.

He took ownership. He accepted responsibility. He talked about playing harder, and better, starting with him.

He sounded like a leader.

“I have to play better,” he said. “It’s been inconsistent with me this year and these last couple weeks. I’ve been trying to be more aggressive. … We have to take it to a whole [new] level and it starts with me personally.”

It was refreshing because for most of the season, we’ve heard the Gophers talk about depth and balance. We’ve heard them say they don’t have a go-to guy – because it could be anyone – and that their plan is to feed whoever’s hot.

But the “Team of Equals” theme has left the Gophers as a struggling team with no one on the hook. Yes, they all need to produce and contribute. But they also need an inspiration, someone to call them out individually, someone to set a tone of dissatisfaction.

And in their moments of collapse, in their apparent panic, in their highs and lows -- both on the court and off -- leadership has been a big problem.

Heck, their inability to lead themselves has gotten their coach acting like he got stuck with the group of middle schoolers in a high school tournament.

Asked whether he wants to see the team find a leader, find the guy who will take responsibility and step up, Tubby Smith responded:

“We don’t have that one guy. We’ve been looking for him, but we don’t have that one guy. That’s why it has to be a total team effort. If we did, trust me, we’d be using that one guy. If I had a Carmelo Anthony or if I had somebody like Trey Burke, if we had somebody like that. We’ve tried in many different ways. Andre Hollins is probably the one that will give us the most versatility, but that’s about it.”

But whether Smith wants to say it, it does start with Mbakwe. He can’t be the only one, but he can be the intense, consistent, experienced presence.

The sixth-year senior seems to have hit a new stride in the last few weeks, contributing 49 points and 31 rebounds in the previous three games leading up to the finale at Purdue before getting six and 10, respectively, in that game.

“I didn’t play well at Purdue and we lost, and I have to play better if we want to win games,” Mbakwe said. “Everybody has to play at that level, but I hold myself accountable.”

That’s just the attitude the Gophers need heading into the postseason.

Other quick notes from today’s coach and player availability:

  • Asked whether Smith planned to switch up the lineup at all (perhaps starting Maverick Ahanmisi or Julian Welch at point with Joe Coleman off the bench, as the Gophers have used in in-game situations recently), Smith indicated he would stand pat. “We’ve tried a lot of different weapons. We’ve played everybody in every game just about, so they’ve had plenty of opportunties. We’ve just got to find the right button to push in the game. Starting, in my opinion, is not a big deal, the big deal is who’s performing at the clutch time, crunch time when we need them to perform.”
  • Regarding Rodney Williams, and what the key to unlocking the senior’s potential might be, Smith said: “I’ve been trying for four years. I think it’s just staying focused, just playing as hard as he can play, every minute and every second on the court. Not taking any time off, just every possession’s got to be all out. I think that’s it. We always tell guys, you can just play harder – that’s the key, just play as hard as you can play.”
  • Smith said he’s trying to keep any pressure off this team as they head into the Big Ten tournament, stating that the Gophers have “had trouble responding to pressure. … There are a lot of different ways to approach it, as far as what we say about ‘now or never.’ We try to say, Look, it’s another opportunity for us. It’s a chance for us to improve and get better and that’s about the way I approach it. “
  • When it comes to his two seniors (Mbakwe and Williams) that have been at Minnesota and in major roles the longest, Smith said the pair will need to overachieve if the team is to have success. “I’d like to see it,” he said. “I think they’re trying. I think they’re giving us their best effort. It is what it is. I don’t think they haven’t tried to play better. It’s just – we all have limitations. And at this point in time, you’ve got to overachieve. And if they’re willing to overachieve, we’ll have a good run.”


Tampa 6 FINAL
Philadelphia 2
LA Clippers 96 FINAL
Chicago 86
Cleveland 103 FINAL
Houston 105
Golden State 60 3rd Qtr 7:28
Boston 71
Philadelphia 46 3rd Qtr
Indiana 59
Portland 64 3rd Qtr
Sacramento 50
Charlotte 45 3rd Qtr 11:11
Orlando 43
Oklahoma City 43 2nd Qtr 4:42
LA Lakers 40
New Orleans 7:00 PM
Los Angeles 2 FINAL
Winnipeg 5
Tampa Bay 2 3rd Prd 5:02
Florida 4
Columbus 2 3rd Prd 9:42
Pittsburgh 5
Toronto 0 1st Prd 12:14
Washington 1
Anaheim 7:00 PM
St. Louis 8:30 PM
Connecticut 81
Quinnipiac 65 FINAL
Manhattan 69
Fairfield 56 FINAL
Niagara 57
Marist 49 FINAL
Rider 59
Iona 60 FINAL
Saint Peters 68
Oregon State 56 FINAL
California 73
South Florida 55 FINAL
Houston 72
Marquette 66 FINAL
Providence 77
Michigan State 61 FINAL
Wisconsin 68
Siena 57 FINAL
Monmouth 63
Pittsburgh 35 2nd Half
Wake Forest 37
Oregon 13 1st Half 10:35
Stanford 16
Purdue 6:30 PM
Ohio State
Arizona State 7:30 PM
Washington St 8:30 PM
Georgetown 66 FINAL
Providence 81
Binghamton 50 FINAL
Elon 65 FINAL
Hofstra 58
Virginia Tech 47 FINAL
Boston College 49
(8) Louisville 59 FINAL
Virginia 75
Texas 69 FINAL
West Virginia 76
Creighton 53 FINAL
Villanova 61
Seton Hall 85 FINAL
Butler 76
UNC-Wilmington 76 FINAL
Coll of Charleston 65
(5) Maryland 69 FINAL
(25) Northwestern 48
Saint Josephs 67 FINAL
La Salle 55
Louisiana Tech 53 FINAL
TX-San Antonio 60
Rhode Island 70 FINAL
Massachusetts 78
Richmond 55 FINAL
VA Commonwealth 49
Davidson 46 FINAL
Fordham 54
St Bonaventure 43 FINAL
Duquesne 51
George Mason 45 FINAL
(22) George Washington 80
Indiana 60 FINAL
(20) Rutgers 71
(12) Texas A&M 63 FINAL
LSU 80
Ole Miss 47 FINAL
(11) Miss State 55
Clemson 56 FINAL
Pittsburgh 61
Maine 47 FINAL
New Hampshire 61
Vermont 48 FINAL
Albany 76
Quinnipiac 87 FINAL
Monmouth 48
Saint Peters 47 FINAL
Siena 64
(4) Notre Dame 67 FINAL
NC State 60
Wisconsin 62 FINAL
Penn State 56
Stony Brook 49 FINAL
Hartford 56
Northeastern 47 FINAL
William & Mary 62
St Johns 61 FINAL
Xavier 74
James Madison 74 FINAL
Delaware 71
Towson 45 FINAL
Drexel 50
Illinois State 50 FINAL
Bradley 60
Southern Ill 74 FINAL
Loyola-Chicago 70
Northern Iowa 54 FINAL
Wichita State 66
Minnesota 76 FINAL
(17) Iowa 92
(15) North Carolina 80 FINAL
(16) Duke 81
Alabama 73 FINAL
Auburn 80
(9) Florida State 69 FINAL
Miami-Florida 55
Arkansas 41 FINAL
Missouri 57
Georgia 52 FINAL
Florida 45
Dayton 95 FINAL
Saint Louis 68
Drake 57 FINAL
Missouri State 86
Colorado 46 FINAL
(10) Arizona State 59
(19) Stanford 55 FINAL
Oregon 62
Marquette 82 FINAL
DePaul 99
Southern Miss 66 FINAL
Texas-El Paso 60
Vanderbilt 49 FINAL
(6) Tennessee 79
(2) South Carolina 56 FINAL
(13) Kentucky 67
Utah 41 FINAL
Arizona 64
Ohio State 78 FINAL
Nebraska 60
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