As we’re starting to see all over again, when Trevor Mbakwe gets rolling, there’s really no stopping him – not by opponents and not by his own teammates, even, trying to make their own contributions.
With the big man – having a terrific game in Tuesday’s win over North Dakota State – hovering close to 16 rebounds, his previous career high, suddenly Mbakwe was more dominant than ever, exploding off the floor and, in a couple cases, almost swiping balls right out of teammates’ hands.
“I actually stole a couple from my teammates and they made sure to let me know about that after the game,” said a joking Mbakwe, who eventually battled his way to a career-high 18 rebounds. “I got stuck on 16 a few times a couple years ago. They kind of told me, ‘You’re inching around it.’”
Teammate Rodney Williams judged just how good Mbakwe was playing in the second half by how he started struggling to take anything down off the boards. Stand back and watch Mbakwe do his thing? Pfft.
“Actually, no, I try to go in there and take some rebounds too, but he’s too strong, he always takes them,” Williams said with a grin.
But ball hog or not, the emergence of Mbakwe’s rediscovered intensity is the most positive sign for the Gophers as they move toward the Big Ten schedule (Minnesota has one final non-conference game, against Lafayette on Dec. 22 and starts conference play with Michigan State in town on New Years’ Eve).
It’s been a long road, rehabbing back from a torn ACL that kept him out of play for most of the year last year, but at last – and when it matters most – Mbakwe is starting to look like the player that was predicted to be chosen in the NBA draft before getting hurt last year.
In addition to his strong rebounding, the sixth-year senior wowed with two vicious putbacks, his hustle diving all over the floor for loose balls and his 14 points on 5-of-6 shooting.
“Trevor’s intensity has definitely picked up," Williams said. He’s been stepping up in the big games when we need him to, like he used to. So it’s just good to have him back out there and have him looking like the old Trev.”
The new record is nice, but what it indicates is so much nicer for the program: that the Gophers are reaching their most promising state just before the Big Ten schedule starts.