At some point, Rodney Williams just got tired of the stories. The “Oh the Barn was so great when” and the “Boy, you should have felt the way it shook.”
For all of the senior’s experience, it had been a shell of that former glory, a quirky venue often with more memories than fans, it seemed.
But then, this season happened. With Minnesota fielding its best basketball team in more than a decade, Gophers fans showed up in droves for the Big Ten opener on New Years’ Eve against Michigan State. And when the game tipped, it was a different Barn than the one Williams had gotten to know so well. This version, well, rocked.
“You definitely get sick of hearing stories like that,” Williams said. “And then, when it finally happened, it was a real special moment for me, because I’ve never seen it like that, in all my four years. … When it got loud in there, it definitely sent chills through my body.”
Knowing better than ever what a raucous home crowd can do for a team after losing at Indiana to the soundtrack of the ear-splitting Assembly Hall fan base, the Gophers are hoping that the new Williams Arena vibe will remain through a tough season against an improved Big Ten, including their game against No. 5 Michigan on Thursday.
“I was just careless with the ball, those unforced turnovers,” Andre Hollins said of how the Hoosiers crowd was felt by the Gophers on Saturday. “The atmosphere, it definitely got to me a little bit. That’s what crowds do to you. Crowds are a big factor in games, when they’re loud like that. When they got the ball off the tip, it just erupted … We definitely want some of that home-court advantage.”
Other notes from today’s access:
- Coach Tubby Smith said one of the big issues for the Gophers on Saturday at Indiana was that with Andre Hollins having a hard time guarding Hoosiers point guard Yogi Ferrell one-one-one, other players would be forced to come off their guys – which Ferrell would promptly dish to for an open jumpshot. Against Michigan’s Trey Burke, the job isn’t going to get any easier considering the wide array of scoring threats the Wolverines have as well. “I’m going to have to contain him, keep him out of the lane because they have a lot of shooters,” Hollins said. “So I’m going to have to make him take tough shots, be on his hip and I’m going to tell everybody – don’t help too much, because they can shoot the ball.”
- In light of the way the bench has been used in a minimized capacity recently, Rodney Williams said he believes all five starters are conditioned well enough to play 35 minutes, if they needed to, every game. In the last two games, the bench has scored just a total of eight points.
- A year ago, the Gophers were a little like this Michigan team, just in terms of age and experience. While the Wolverines have talented sophomore Trey Burke at point and veteran Tim Hardaway Jr. bolstering the lineup, they are also relying on major contributions from freshmen – with five altogether that get significant minutes. On Monday, coach John Beilein admitted that the team’s age showed in the Wolverines’ close loss at Ohio State, in which Michigan came back from a large deficit but then played rushed and panicked at the end. Austin Hollins remembers that journey well. “It’s really tough” he said. “You don’t know what to expect when you’re going in there. And when you walk into hostile environment – I would say our arena is a hostile environment – but Michigan State, Indiana, going into places like that when you’ve never been there and trying to play, you know, it’s tough. But it’s a learning experience and you get used to it.”
- Andre Hollins said he watched Tuesday night’s Wisconsin win at Indiana and felt again as though the Gophers let one slip away at Assembly Hall. “They just defended them,” he said. “They defended Jordan Hulls well, they rebounded well, they made shots, they played a great game, and that’s what it takes to beat a Big Ten team on the road. You have to be focused, don’t let the runs get you.”