Gophers shake problems to remain unbeaten

No. 24 Minnesota overcame poor shooting to beat Utah Valley 76-51 at Williams Arena.

by Marco LaNave

A rough stomach held the GophersâÄô leading scorer out of Thursday nightâÄôs game, but a first-half shooting bug didnâÄôt prevent No. 24 Minnesota from earning another home victory. Senior guard Lawrence Westbrook did not play because of food poisoning, according to head coach Tubby Smith, but the Gophers still overcame 29 percent shooting through most of the first half to defeat Utah Valley 76-51 at Williams Arena. Smith said Westbrook hasnâÄôt been at practice the past couple days, but that he would be fine for the GophersâÄô game against No. 11 Butler at the 76 Classic in Anaheim, Calif. To overcome WestbrookâÄôs absence on Thursday night, Minnesota got 17 points from freshman forward Rodney Williams, who led all scorers and also had four of the GophersâÄô 15 steals in his first collegiate start. âÄúRodney really gave us a heck of a boost today in the game,âÄù junior point guard Al Nolen said. The Gophers looked like they could have used Westbrook when they had made just seven of 24 fie ld goals and clung to a 21-20 lead with just over three minutes to go in the first half. Smith said that the Gophers didnâÄôt have WestbrookâÄôs ability to attack the basket early in the game, but they settled in to score 26 points in the paint in the second half. âÄúItâÄôs kind of like a good football game: youâÄôve got to soften âÄòem up down the middle and then youâÄôve got to hit âÄòem with the outside [shots],âÄù Smith said. As they had in their previous two games, the Gophers went on a run before halftime. They made five of 11 field goals in the final three minutes before halftime to take a 32-24 lead. Senior forward Damian Johnson made two layups to start the stretch. He said that after the GophersâÄô usual multi-player substitutions early in the game, they have started realizing the need to make a run. âÄúGuys are starting to get into the flow toward the end of the first half,âÄù Johnson said. It took the Gophers a little longer to completely pull away from the Wolverines, who twice closed the gap to 7 points in the second half. Williams scored 8 straight points for Minnesota in a two-minute stretch that pushed the GophersâÄô lead to double digits for good. He also had 8 of MinnesotaâÄôs 14 fast-break points. âÄúWith Rodney being so athletic, he can really get out and run the floor on the breaksâĦand he can finish at the basket, [but] if teams back off him, he can hit the open three, so it really opens it up for everybody else,âÄù Nolen said. Utah Valley shot the best of MinnesotaâÄôs three opponents so far but committed 26 turnovers, including 15 steals by Minnesota. The Gophers scored 30 points off of Wolverines turnovers while committing just five of their own, their fewest since committing just four against Indiana on Jan. 24, 2004. Minnesota finished the game on a 13-0 run. Box score: No. 24 MINNESOTA 76, UTAH VALLEY 51 UTAH VALLEY (1-2) Scoubes 2-7 0-0 6, Baker 1-3 2-4 4, England 2-2 0-0 4, Petty 3-8 0-0 8, Woods 4-8 0-0 9, Dearden 3-6 2-2 8, Swarbrick 4-8 2-2 11, Fannon 0-0 1-2 1, Holm 0-0 0-0 0, Jenson 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 19-42 7-10 51. MINNESOTA (3-0) Johnson 7-10 0-0 15, Williams 7-12 3-4 17, Sampson 3-4 3-4 9, Joseph 3-13 1-1 8, Nolen 2-7 7-8 11, Iverson 0-0 0-2 0, Hoffarber 2-6 0-0 6, Cobbs 0-1 0-0 0, Carter 3-10 3-4 10. Totals 27-63 17-23 76. Halftime âÄî Minnesota 32-24. 3-Point Goals âÄî Utah Valley 6-13 (Petty 2-3, Scoubes 2-5, Woods 1-1, Swarbrick 1-2, Dearden 0-2), Minnesota 5-19 (Hoffarber 2-5, Johnson 1-2, Carter 1-2, Joseph 1-5, Nolen 0-2, Williams 0-3). Rebounds âÄî Utah Valley 34 (Petty 9), Minnesota 29 (Johnson 6, Williams 6). Assists âÄî Utah Valley 12 (Petty 4), Minnesota 21 (Nolen 7). Total Fouls âÄî Utah Valley 18, Minnesota 13. A âÄî 11,912.