Hoffarber Learning on the Job at Point Guard

Blake Hoffarber, the leading scorer for the Gophers, is the best offensive player on the roster. But after starting point guard Al Nolen was lost indefinitely due to a broken foot, Smith turned to Hoffarber as his replacement. The last time Hoffarber played point guard for a long stretch was his junior year in high school.

The senior guard is one of the best shooting guards in the country, a claim supported by his 45 percent shooting from beyond the arc through Jan. 30. But at point guard, his focus is on running the team.

During a 73-61 loss at Purdue on Jan. 29, Hoffarber scored 14 points but had just seven with 10 minutes to play. By that time, the Boilermakers had established a double-digit lead.

After that loss, Smith said he might switch up the lineup, but he commended Hoffarber's performance. The bottom line is that the Gophers need Hoffarber to score more than they need him to handle the ball.

"They definitely pressured Blake. You could tell that's what they were focusing on," Gophers junior Colton Iverson said after the loss to Purdue. "Their defenders were all over him. ... I know Blake was really flustered out there. We just need to get more open on the wing and open it up for him because they're going to be doubling him now."

NOTES, QUOTES

--Coach Tubby Smith was criticized for the lack of star power in his 2010 recruiting class, but his freshmen have contributed in a tumultuous season. Austin Hollins, Chip Armelin and Maverick Ahanmisi have all played key roles in the rotation, especially with injuries that have left eight available scholarship players on his roster. Freshman Mo Walker was a top big man for the Gophers until he went down with a season-ending knee injury in December.

--Al Nolen underwent successful surgery to insert a pin in his broken right foot. The senior point guard said he hopes to return this season, although team trainers and doctors have told coaches that there's no guarantee of that. Nolen said even if he returns to finish out his senior season, there will be a high risk of re-injury.

--Tubby Smith reiterated his desire for a practice facility during a recent radio program. On KFAN, Smith said the Gophers "desperately" need a practice facility to stay competitive in the recruiting world. The price tag is currently close to $20 million, and the university intends to build it with private funds it hasn't raised yet.

BY THE NUMBERS: 12 -- Consecutive road losses to nationally ranked teams during the Tubby Smith tenure, through Jan. 30. The Gophers, however, have defeated nationally ranked squads at home and on neutral courts.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "Rodney (Williams), tough day today. I think he was still back in Minnesota." -- Gophers coach Tubby Smith, after the Jan. 29 loss at Purdue. Williams finished with two points, two assists and no rebounds.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

GAME PREVIEW:

--at Indiana, Feb. 2

KEY MATCHUPS: The Gophers continue to play struggling squads at the wrong time. Indiana beat Illinois last week in the program's first win over a nationally ranked opponent under Tom Crean. The Gophers travel to Bloomington, Ind., where they lost last season. Jeremiah Rivers is the kind of lockdown defender (1.1 steals per game through Jan. 30) who can pressure new Gophers point guard Blake Hoffarber every time he touches the ball.

--vs. Ohio State, Feb. 6

KEY MATCHUPS: Ohio State has been the unchallenged No. 1 team in the country for weeks. The Gophers nearly knocked off the Buckeyes in the teams' first meeting Jan. 9. The Gophers are using three post players in their starting rotation. The alignment could help them limit national player of the year candidate Jared Sullinger.

FUTURES MARKET: Joe Coleman, a senior at Hopkins High School (Minnetonka, Minn.), is averaging 23.5 points per game this season. The future Gophers wing had led Hopkins, the 4A state champs the last two seasons, to a 15-0 record and a No. 15 standing in USA Today's prep rankings.

PLAYER NOTES

--Senior G Blake Hoffarber had six turnovers in his past two games at point guard through Jan. 30. He also averaged 17.0 points per game.

--Junior F Trevor Mbakwe recorded his 13th double-double of the season in the Jan. 29 loss at Purdue. He scored 17 points and grabbed 12 rebounds.

--Freshman C Elliott Eliason most likely will redshirt this season. After Mo Walker went down with a knee injury in December, coach Tubby Smith said he thought about using the freshman, whom he'd planned to redshirt before the season started. But Eliason hasn't played. Smith has gone with sophomore walk-on Dominique Dawson in spurts due to limited depth inside.


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