Nolen's Absence Leaves Huge Void for Gophers

MINNEAPOLIS — The Gophers are missing their leader, and it's showing. Since starting point guard Al Nolen suffered a broken foot Jan. 22, Minnesota have unraveled.

Nolen's absence was most evident Feb. 10 during the final minutes of the Gophers' 71-62 loss to Illinois at Williams Arena. The score was tied 51-51 with seven-plus minutes to play, but the Gophers missed easy shots, turned the ball over and failed to get back on defense.

After the game, junior forward Trevor Mbakwe said the team had lost its mojo in large part because of Nolen's injury.

The Gophers have lost four games in a row for the first time in Tubby Smith's four years with the program, and their upcoming chances to recover involve road games.

The Gophers travel to Iowa on Sunday. Wisconsin barely escaped with an overtime victory in Iowa City earlier this week. After that trip, the Gophers will play at Penn State. The Nittany Lions have beaten Wisconsin, Illinois and Michigan State in State College, Pa., this season. Plus, the Gophers are 1-5 in Big Ten road games.

BEYOND THE BOX SCORE: There's more pressure on Blake Hoffarber to find more ways to score than ever before. Coach Tubby Smith criticized the team's top scorer after he went 3-for-10 from the 3-point arc against the Illini on Feb. 10. Hoffarber is 10-for-27 from 3-point range in the past three games. The 40 percent shooter from beyond the arc has been one of the best marksmen in the country, but since he switched to point guard after Al Nolen's injury, he's had more trouble from the field.

NOTES, QUOTES

--The Gophers played Illinois tough before the Illini outscored them 20-11 in the last 7 minutes, 29 seconds to take a 71-62 victory Feb. 10 in Minneapolis. The Gophers recorded 16 turnovers. Trevor Mbakwe led Minnesota with 17 points and 16 rebounds.

--Trevor Mbakwe was 10th in the country with 13 double-doubles through Feb. 6. He was leading the Big Ten in rebounds with 10.5 boards per game. The Gophers' first two games in February featured the second and third times this season that Mbakwe failed to record double figures in scoring or rebounding in the same contest.

--Austin Hollins made his fourth start of the season against Indiana on Feb. 6. The freshman, who is the son of Memphis Grizzlies head coach Lionel Hollins, averaged 11.0 points and 2.5 steals in the last two games through Feb. 6.

--Blake Hoffarber continues to struggle as the new Gophers point guard, a switch made after Al Nolen was injured. He'd recorded eight turnovers in the team's last two games through Feb. 6.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "All those things help. All those things tie into your commitment to the program and resources, and that's a big part of it nowadays. It's like an arms race. ... It's not just something for recruiting. (The practice facility is) needed. We really don't like going across the street in the cold to lift (weights). We just don't like that. We'd like to be able to have our own place where we could do that." -- Tubby Smith, on his team's need for a practice facility.


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