As Minnesota visits Happy Valley on Thursday, the Gophers have been reeling from the loss of senior point-guard Al Nolen to a season-ending injury. Since the sidelining of Nolen, Minnesota has dropped four of their last five games, recently halting the skid with a 62-45 rout of Iowa on Sunday.
Prior to the Nolen injury, UM was a stellar 16-4 overall and 5-3 in Big Ten play. Despite the recent slip though, Minnesota still leads the Big Ten in rebounding (37.2) and blocked shots (5.69) and aims to extend their winning streak against a Penn State squad that is 3-3 in their last six contests, but 5-1 in their last six home games.
Given their recent results Gopher head coach Tubby Smith realizes his squad cannot take the Nittany Lions lightly, saying, "We get ready for a very good Penn State team that is already coming off a good win. They beat Northwestern pretty handily. They're very tough at home and a player like Taylor Battle who's one of the top scorers in the history of the Big Ten, not just at Penn State. He's always been a challenge and a tough player to guard. It's going to be coming upon us to really know where he is on the court."
Although an NCAA Tournament bid seems all but out of reach at this point for PSU, the Lions are looking to boost their resume with another home win in hopes of the chips somehow falling in their favor with a potential strong closeout to the season and an conference tournament run.
As if Battle reaching the 2,000-point mark on Sunday wasn't enough though, he now needs only seven assists to become the first player to score 2,000 points, grab 500 rebounds and dish out 500 assists over a Big Ten career. Plus he is a mere 11 points away from becoming the first PSU player to score 500+ points in three consecutive seasons.
Minnesota dominates the all-time series with PSU with a 27-8 edge, winning the last three meetings and 11 of the last 12. Tonight's game is a 7 pm tip-off and will be broadcast nationally on ESPN.