Gone is the day when centers are the faces of the sport in basketball. If you're only watching the NBA, you might even think the position is nearly obsolete.
That's not the case in college basketball right now — and certainly not in the Big Ten.
Gophers junior Liam Robbins has gone through a gantlet of elite big men in his first season in the Big Ten — and he's growing into one in his own right.
The Drake transfer put on a show with his family in attendance. And he got his revenge against Michigan and fellow 7-footer Hunter Dickinson by outplaying his counterpart with 22 points, eight rebounds and two blocks in a 75-57 victory Saturday at Williams Arena.
"He's a good player," Robbins said of Dickinson, who had 28 points in the Gophers' 25-point loss at Michigan on Jan. 6. "Personally, I didn't want him to get 28 again obviously. But it was a whole team effort."
Robbins was limited to seven minutes in the first half when he picked up his second foul with the Gophers clinging to a six-point lead. He was frustrated at leaving the game so early, but it motivated him to come back stronger with 16 points in 15 minutes in the second half, including three three-pointers and two dunks.
"I was upset at myself," Robbins said. "You just have to stay positive and be active and locked in. You never know when your number is going to be called."
The Gophers had struggled defending the league's elite big men. Iowa All-America Luka Garza had 32 points and 33 points in two games against the Gophers. Illinois 7-footer Kofi Cockburn had 33 points and Wisconsin's 6-10 Micah Potter had 18 in victories over Minnesota.
The Gophers gave Robbins some help Saturday. Senior big man Eric Curry had three steals and held his own off the bench vs. the 7-1 Dickinson, who had just nine points in 23 minutes.
"I just thought collectively we were defending as a group much better," Gophers coach Richard Pitino said.
• The Gophers had 38 fans attending Saturday's game. COVID-19 restrictions were loosened recently by Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz. Before that, no fans were allowed at the Gophers' previous 10 games at the Barn.
• Pitino said he is not certain the Gophers will play Wednesday at Nebraska. The Cornhuskers have been on pause because of COVID-19 after postponing their game earlier in the week vs. Maryland.