Huskies are final tune-up

Junior college transfer J’son Stamper could make his Minnesota debut tonight.

Bob Wothe

For a group as young as Minnesota’s men’s basketball team, every game is invaluable to building experience.

That’s why junior guard/forward Vincent Grier said even exhibitions, such as the one the Gophers play at 7 p.m. tonight against St. Cloud State at Williams Arena, are important.

“We’re still trying to find our identity as a team,” Grier said. “We’ve got to prove how tough we are on (defense) in this game.”

The defense was certainly there in Minnesota’s exhibition-opening 91-50 drubbing of Division III St. Thomas – the Gophers held the Tommies to just 30.5 percent shooting from the field.

The same type of defensive showing against the Huskies would be a major positive as the team heads into Division I play, opening up against Lipscomb on Nov. 21.

But there’s a big difference between Division II and Division III.

“Realistically, we’re the underdogs, but we still have to think we can go down and win,” Huskies coach Kevin Schlagel said. “Night in and night out, they’re probably stronger, but it’s just one night, and that’s why you go out and play the games.”

One factor that might allow St. Cloud State to keep the game much closer than St. Thomas is size. The Tommies had just two players taller than 6 feet 7 inches, but the Huskies have seven such players on a squad that returns three starters from last year’s 17-11 team.

The pure physical size of St. Cloud State means the Gophers will not have such an easy time dumping the ball into 7-footer Jeff Hagen, who scored 17 points in the win over St. Thomas.

Another factor: Hagen will likely be limited in his playing time because of an ongoing problem with plantar fasciitis.

Although Hagen and other inside players will face a tougher test, the Gophers should be bolstered by J’son Stamper’s probable debut with the Gophers. The junior college transfer hyperextended his left knee last month but returned to practice this week.

“If there’s no setback,” Monson said, “we’ll get J’son some limited minutes.”

Stamper’s return will be particularly key because the Gophers struggled with rebounding against St. Thomas, disappointing Monson by allowing the Tommies to grab 14 offensive boards.

Though Stamper stands only 6 feet 6 inches tall, he was the fourth-leading junior college rebounder last year.

Although the game is just

another exhibition – the

Gophers’ final – and won’t count on either team’s official record, another dominating win for the young Gophers would serve to lift expectations for the squad.

“We’ve always believed that we’d do better than people expected,” Grier said. “And Friday, we just have to continue doing that.”