Richard Pitino hopes he's not staring down the bench at Liam Robbins on Wednesday night.
That would mean the Gophers center's sprained ankle would keep him sidelined at Indiana in another crucial Big Ten men's basketball game. The 7-foot junior is the Big Ten's top shot blocker and the team's top inside scoring presence.
"He's one of the best centers in the league," said Pitino, the Gophers coach. "We're not better with him not on the court."
Whether Robbins plays hurt or not at all, the Gophers (13-8, 6-8 in the Big Ten) are desperate for their first road win this season. They'll have to do it likely going with a post-presence-by-committee approach against the Hoosiers (11-9, 6-7).
Backup center Eric Curry, and forwards Brandon Johnson and Isaiah Ihnen are candidates to fill the production void if Robbins can't give the Gophers his best.
"I know he wants to play," Pitino said of Robbins. "We're going to do what's best for him and what's best for the team."
Running up and down the floor on a bad ankle made Robbins a nonfactor in Sunday's 72-59 loss at Maryland. He finished with a season-low two points on 1-for-8 shooting and three fouls in 18 minutes.
It's clear how dangerous the Gophers can be when Robbins is dominant on the block. The Drake transfer averaged 21 points, nine rebounds and 3½ blocks in four wins against ranked opponents, including Michigan, Ohio State and Iowa.
Going 0-7 on the road this season has correlated with struggles from the Gophers' two best players away from home. Point guard Marcus Carr had only nine points on 4-for-15 shooting at Maryland. Robbins had four fouls or more in six of the U's Big Ten losses, fouling out three times.
"I know the story of our team is we haven't won on the road yet," Robbins said recently. "The reality is every game in the Big Ten is tough."
Robbins reaggravated an existing ankle injury in the second half of last week's 71-68 win against Purdue at home. He still finished with his third double-double with 11 points, 10 rebounds and four blocks in 30 minutes.
On Sunday, Robbins picked up two quick fouls in the first five minutes at Maryland. Curry had three rebounds and two steals in 12 minutes off the bench in the first half.
The 6-9, 240-pound Curry, a co-captain coming off his second major knee injury last season, might get extended time Wednesday battling down low with Indiana's star sophomore Trayce Jackson-Davis.
A big challenge Wednesday will be if the Gophers can match the physicality and athleticism of Indiana's frontcourt with Jackson-Davis and Minnesota native Race Thompson. The 6-9, 245-pound Jackson-Davis was a midseason All-America pick and averages 19.6 points and 9.4 rebounds.
"[Robbins'] inability to guard ball screens or block shots hurt our team because he was hobbling and trying to fight through it," Pitino said. "Obviously, whenever you play a guy who is hurt you make sure if you do play it can't damage it further. It's a sprained ankle. Just see what the pain tolerance is and how much he can go without hurting the team."
A limited Robbins offensively means firepower in the frontcourt has to come from elsewhere.
The most efficient player Sunday was Ihnen, a 6-9 sophomore, who finished with a career-high 12 points, seven rebounds and two blocks in 20 minutes. Johnson, a 6-8 senior, struggled with five points and four fouls in 24 minutes at Maryland, but he had recently been on a four-game double figure scoring streak.
Pitino hopes the Gophers can overcome Robbins' injury and whatever adversity they face Wednesday on the road by taking care of business in one particular area.
"I don't know what else different we can do besides, we got to play better defense when the ball is not going in the basket," Pitino said. "We've had some adjustments where we got to be more mentally tough and respond to whatever is thrown at us."