Trevor Mbakwe has experienced some soreness in his knee after playing, coach Tubby Smith said Thursday, but that’s still not the reason for his use of the forward at this point.

“We want to be concerned about that,” Smith said.

But regardless, the coach doesn’t have plans to change the big man’s role, at least not right now.

“I really haven’t had to push it at this point, which is fine because I don’t want to push it,” Smith said. “I want him to healthy when we get to Big Ten play at the end of the year. He’s coming off a major surgery and he’s guy that plays all out … when he goes in, I expect him to go as hard as he can.”

The sixth-year senior is averaging 17.2 minutes a game on the year, but in the past two games have played just 14 and 11 minutes, respectively.

That will likely remain the case unless something drastic happens with someone in the current lineup – of which Smith continually gushes about their chemistry -- or in the case of an injury.

A couple other notes from today’s Gophers media access as the team gets ready to go to LA tomorrow for this weekend’s game vs. USC:

• A win at USC would be No. 500 for Tubby Smith’s career. “That’s a testament to longevity, just being able to stay in the game, a testament to the good players I’ve had, because I haven’t made a shot since 1973,” he said, grinning. “Every shot, every basket scored, every win, it’s not because of me, it’s because of the players I’ve had the good fortune to work with.”

• Smith said he’s seen some encouraging signs lately from Julian Welch -- who has been in a slump all year – but that the change in role from last year to this year for the guard has likely had some effect on his lessened production. “Just adjusting to that -- not being a starter, not getting out there and not getting the minutes, I’m sure that can be frustrating,” Smith said. But it’s how they deal with it, and again, going to the next phase – ‘What’s next coach, what can I do next tohelp this team?’

• Smith said the staff has tried to change Welch’s “line drive” shot, but that he wasn’t sure they’d be able to alter it. “We’re just encouraging him to get out and shoot more and just work on his shot, work on his rotation, which he’s doing as we speak now.”

• Smith said this bunch has the best chemistry as any team he’s had “in a long time.”