Just being able to play without missing any games through the first few weeks of the season was a victory in itself for the Gophers men's basketball team during a pandemic.
That uninterrupted start was also a crucial period of growth for Liam Robbins.
The 7-foot junior on Thursday night showed glimpses of why he was such a sought-after transfer with a season-high 27 points, nine rebounds and five blocks inthe Gophers' 90-61 victory over Missouri-Kansas City at Williams Arena.
The Gophers (6-0) bullied their Summit League opponent in the paint, leaning on their significant size advantage with Robbins. They're off to their best start since going 7-0 to open the 2017-18 season.
"That's a huge part of what any team does is establish a low-post presence," Gophers coach Richard Pitino said. "That's top to bottom in our league. You establish that and good things happen."
After All-America center Daniel Oturu left for the NBA, Pitino expected to rely on his veteran backcourt of Marcus Carr, Both Gach and Gabe Kalscheur, who combined for 39 points against UMKC (2-3). But it was again a Gophers big man's night to shine.
Robbins' career-high was 29 points last season, when he earned All-Missouri Valley second-team honors as Drake's top player. His first big offensive outing with the Gophers took longer than some fans expected against smaller teams, but he was patient.
The true test will be when Robbins faces 7-foot Kofi Cockburn in Tuesday's Big Ten opener at Illinois. Still, this was an important step.
"I see myself progressing as well as I see our team progressing," said Robbins. "I definitely had a rough start with a lot of foul trouble. And missing shots I usually make, but it's really a credit to my teammates and coaches. They never wavered with me."
When he put his name in the transfer portal in the spring, Robbins heard from more than 20 schools, including some blue-blood programs. In his second season at Drake, he became one of the top shot blockers in the nation. But he wanted to test himself in a more prominent conference.
In the first three games, Robbins struggled to finish consistently, averaging eight points on 41% shooting after battling an ankle injury.
In the past three games, Robbins limited fouls and made his presence felt on both ends. He had five blocks in a win against North Dakota. He had 14 points and eight rebounds in Tuesday's 85-80 overtime win against Boston College.
On Thursday, the Gophers established Robbins early. He opened the game with a three-pointer, and UMKC struggled to keep Minnesota and Robbins off the foul line in the first half.
Robbins had 14 points on 9-for-11 foul shooting in the first half to lead his team to a 43-31 halftime lead.
Isaiah Ihnen started at power forward for the Gophers, and the 6-9 sophomore displayed his potential as well, with a career-high 11 rebounds and two blocks.
"He's so tall and so big, he's a problem for almost every team we play," Ihnen said of Robbins. "That opens the court up for everybody else."