Williams Working His Way Up

Junior center Jon Williams has been seeing more action lately while Spencer Tollackson's playing time went down dramatically on Wednesday night.

Seniority doesn't mean a lot to Tubby Smith. Maybe it never did.

During a road loss at Indiana, Smith went with junior center Jon Williams over senior big man Spencer Tollackson. Williams played 26 minutes, compared to Tollackson's 11.

Tollackson did suffer a hand injury in practice the day before the game; however, Smith said after the game that Williams had just been the better player lately.

That says a lot. A few months ago, Smith questioned Williams' intensity level and publicly criticized his lack of toughness. But after a few solid games against tough opponents, Williams has moved up in Smith's rotation. And Tollackson appears to be the one in limbo.

Now that their only chance of getting into the NCAA tournament is by winning the Big Ten tournament, personnel moves are significant for the Gophers. Smith plans on going forward with his best players, regardless of their youth.

INDIANA 69, MINNESOTA 55: Indiana's D.J. White hit a huge 3-point shot to end the first half against Minnesota. The 3-pointer gave the Hoosiers a four-point edge, momentum that they carried into the second half.

But the Gophers stormed back. Lawrence McKenzie hit four of nine three-point attempts and kept Minnesota in the game with a 22-point effort. With nearly eight minutes to go in the game, the Gophers had tied things up at 48 apiece.

But Indiana didn't want to let White down on Senior Night. The Hoosiers went on a 21-7 run to end the game and sent their seniors home on a good note.

NOTES

  • G Lawrence McKenzie had his second straight 20-plus point performance against Indiana. He's definitely taken the fate of every game into his own hands. He's not waiting for his teammates to get into the action, which is a sign of his desire to win.

  • C Spencer Tollackson has been so up and down lately; it's no surprise that he played just 11 minutes against Indiana. In some games, he's been the starting center by default because of the team's lack of depth. Now that backup C Jon Williams has stepped up, Tollackson might be best off the bench.

  • G Blake Hoffarber is in a shooting slump. He's hit just two out of 13 3-pointers in the last two games. For most of the season, he's led the Big Ten in 3-point shooting. But he's clearly having trouble toward the end of the season. And his declining minutes are proof.

  • G Lawrence McKenzie re-injured his right hand before he dropped 20 points against Ohio State March 1. He was kept out of practice prior to the game, but the hand didn't appear to bother him during the game. But McKenzie's bruised right hand has to be a concern for the Gophers who expect to play in a postseason tournament.

  • G Lawrence Westbrook appears to get better every game. At about 5-11, he's the shortest guy on the team. But he's probably the Gophers' strongest player, pound for pound, which is why he remains in the starting rotation.

  • C Jon Williams is finally using his 6-9, 260-pound frame to his advantage. He's snatched 27 rebounds over the last five games.

    QUOTE TO NOTE: "When I get hot, I get hot." — Lawrence McKenzie after scoring 20 points in the second half of a 71-57 home win against Ohio State March 1.

  • Tubby Smith's rotation system is impossible to figure out, but it's working. Recently, he's used a starting lineup that's featured three guards, Lawrence McKenzie, Lawrence Westbrook and Al Nolen. But against Ohio State March 1, Nolen, a standout freshman guard who's at the top of the Big Ten in steals, played just 11 minutes.

    IN FOCUS: Minnesota needs a win over the Illini to finish the regular season with a .500 conference mark. The last time the Gophers faced Illinois, they suffered their worst loss of the season. And if that wasn't enough of an embarrassment, the Fighting Illini won by 24 points on Minnesota's home turf. But it gets worse. The Gophers have lost to Illinois 18 times in a row. No Big Ten team has a longer winning streak against another Big Ten team than Illinois' record over Minnesota. So when they play March 8, there's a lot more on the line than just pride.

    PLAYER ROTATION: Usual Starters — F Dan Coleman, C Spencer Tollackson, F Jamal Abu-Shamala, G Lawrence Westbrook, G Lawrence McKenzie. Key Subs — G Al Nolen, G Blake Hoffarber.

    GAME REVIEW:

    Minnesota 75, Penn State 68

    Minnesota 53, Purdue 65

    Minnesota 71, Ohio State 57

    Indiana 69, Minnesota 55

    GAME PREVIEW:

    at Illinois, Saturday, March. 8.


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