The Gophers basketball team will have starting center Liam Robbins healthy enough to battle Sunday against Iowa's standout big man Luka Garza.
They'll need him. Garza leads the nation with 27 points per game this season.
Gophers coach Richard Pitino said Saturday that Robbins is expected to play after being slowed with a leg injury in Wednesday's 82-57 loss at Michigan.
"He was good [Friday] in practice," Pitino said. "He seems Ok. I don't think it was too big of a deal. Obviously, we were just down and I didn't want to throw him back in there."
The 7-foot junior was not in foul trouble against the Wolverines, but Robbins tied a season-low with five points on 2-for-9 shooting, while playing only nine minutes in the second half. Michigan 7-footer Hunter Dickinson had 28 points.
The Davenport, Iowa native transferred from Drake and has become one of the top centers in the Big Ten in his first season with the Gophers. Robbins' 27-point, 14-rebounds, five-block performance in last week's win vs. Ohio State earned him Big Ten player of the week honors.
Robbins ranks second on the team in scoring (13.5) and first in rebounds (7.3) and blocks (2.7). He leads the Big Ten and ranks 16th nationally in blocks.
In his first meeting against his home state program this season, Robbins had 18 points and four blocks in Minnesota's 102-95 overtime win against Iowa on Christmas Day. But Garza had 32 points and 17 rebounds in the loss for the Hawkeyes.
Pitino said it shouldn't just be Robbins' responsibility to slow down the opposing team's big man, but the Gophers play Garza and Dickinson again in back-to-back games. The Wolverines play at Williams Arena next Saturday.
"It's not as simple as Liam you didn't do your job," Pitino said. "There are five guys who need to be connected to take away things. Maybe it's your post passer [defense] is not disruptive enough. Maybe it's the third guy off the ball on a ball screen. It's really not all on one guy. Liam was not perfect on Dickinson by any means, but it's everybody."
In the second half vs. Michigan, Robbins didn't play as much as rarely-used reserve Sam Freeman, a 6-10 sophomore. Freeman had four points and four rebounds in 11 minutes.
Pitino has used 6-9 senior Eric Curry as the backup center for Robbins in past games, but he likes Freeman's 240-pound frame and development.
"When Jarvis [Omersa] decided to opt out, Sam bumped up on that chart," Pitino said. "There are so many bigs in our league that it's hard to play small at that five spot. That's been beneficial. Hopefully he keeps taking advantage of it. I like where he's trending."
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