Starters Dan Coleman, Spencer Tollackson, Lawrence McKenzie, Lawrence Westbrook and Jamal Abu-Shamala are usually spelled within the first five minutes of a game by Damian Johnson, Jon Williams, Blake Hoffarber, Kevin Payton and Al Nolen. That second unit has helped the Gophers break open close games this season by applying the aggressive and energetic defensive effort that sets this team apart from last season's squad.
The reserves helped the Gophers make a 27-9 run and finish up the half with a 44-27 lead. In the first half alone, they held the Bison to just 33.3 field goal percentage and only 27 points after they entered the game averaging 87.6 points. Minnesota went on to cruise to an 88-56 victory.
The Gophers will continue to play this way throughout the season. Smith uses a 10-man rotation to give players time to rest and to insert well-rested reserves who often compete against opponents' starters who seem unprepared for the switch or the full-court press they put on right away.
LOOKING AHEAD: Since the first day of practice, the Gophers have acknowledged that they'll have to build up momentum going into the Big Ten season. If they can get past Colorado State Dec. 8 and South Dakota State Dec. 12, they'll have seven wins, just two shy of their win total for all of last season. These games are important because the Gophers got off to a 2-5 start last season and couldn't recover. But if they can match their win total by the end of the calendar year, they'll have a solid record — and confidence — at the start of their Big Ten schedule.
ROSTER REPORT: Sophomore F Damian Johnson is Minnesota's spark plug off the bench. He led the team in blocks through their first six games and has natural shot-blocking ability.
G Travis Busch has been hampered by a left leg injury, after showing promise in the team's exhibition games. Down the road, a healthy Busch may enhance the team's bench even more. And G Lawrence McKenzie has recovered from a groin injury he suffered prior to the team's season opener against Army Nov. 10.
PLAYER ROTATION: Usual Starters — C Spencer Tollackson, F Dan Coleman, F Jamal Abu-Shamala, G Lawrence Westbrook and G Lawrence McKenzie. Key Subs — G Al Nolen, F Damian Johnson and C Jon Williams.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I think every day this team comes closer and closer together. Obviously, Coach Smith and his staff had a big part of that, installing confidence and teamwork and unity in our squad this year." — C Spencer Tollackson.