Gophers starting junior guard Payton Willis will be doubtful for Saturday's matchup at Oklahoma State in Tulsa, according to Richard Pitino on Friday.
Willis, who is averaging 11 points per game, has been dealing with a lower right leg injury for a couple weeks and missed the second half of Sunday's 84-71 win vs. then-No. 3 Ohio State.
"He's very, very doubtful to play for tomorrow," Pitino said. "He needs to get that ankle right. I think rest will help him. He gutted it out first half last game. Obviously, that was a major blow to us him not playing."
Willis leads the Big Ten with 2.7 three-pointers per game and a team-best 27 on the season. He hit a couple threes in the first half Sunday, but he left the game after tweaking his previous injury early in the second half and didn’t return.
The Vanderbilt transfer first suffered what was thought to be an ankle injury in the Nov. 29 loss against DePaul. He reinjured it in the Dec. 9 loss at Iowa, but he was cleared to play Sunday. There’s a possibility that the injury could be more severe, according to sources.
“He’s been hobbled by this,” Pitino said. “He’s very important to our team, and we need him healthy.”
What happens if Willis can’t play Saturday? Freshman Tre' Williams might even have to assume a starting role. Williams played a career-high 27 minutes in the win vs. the Buckeyes.
"Tre' I thought came in and did a lot of things with the minutes he played," Pitino said. "But anytime you're down a starter who was playing 30 minutes a game and averaged double figures, you're team is going to be drastically affected. It's opportunties for guys who want to play more. He's your chance and go prove it."
Sophomore Marcus Carr scored a career-high 35 points vs. the Buckeyes, but he said it shouldn't be strictly on him to replace Willis' production. Pitino said freshmen Isaiah Ihnen and Bryan Greenlee and senior Michael Hurt could get more opportunties to play as well.
"Payton was one of our ball handlers out there, a starter, a key player on our team," Carr said. "If he's not able to play it's on the whole team to really step up. We've seen that vs. Ohio State. A lot of guys can do that. We have lot of key pieces who can come in and contribute."
Oklahoma State is dealing with some health issues of its own with starting point guard Isaac Likekele having missed the last three games with an illness. Likekele, who had a season-high 26 points vs. Syracuse earlier this season, is averaging 13.7 points, 5.3 rebounds and 5.0 assists per game this season. The Cowboys defeated Houston 61-56 to snap a two-game slide last weekend.