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.
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.
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.
Minnesota 75, Penn State 68
Minnesota 53, Purdue 65
Minnesota 71, Ohio State 57
Indiana 69, Minnesota 55
at Illinois, Saturday, March. 8.