Gophers looking at cleaning the glass as key to progress

Bob Wothe

Minnesota’s men’s basketball team will readily admit it is not going to win a shootout-style game.

That is why the Gophers have placed such an emphasis on rebounding early this season. Along with preaching defense, as so many rebuilding teams do, the importance of rebounding – particularly of the defensive variety – has been pinpointed as one of the team’s main tickets to progress.

“Rebounds are a big thing for us,” said senior center Jeff Hagen, a 7-footer who will be counted on to grab a lot of those rebounds. “Playing shutdown defense doesn’t matter if you can’t rebound.”

But so far, while the Gophers haven’t lost the rebounding battle; they’ve struggled.

After outrebounding smaller Division II and III opponents by an average of 10 boards per game, the Gophers had only broken even with Lipscomb after the first half Sunday with 16.

Particularly troublesome for the Gophers was that seven of the Bisons’ rebounds were offensive.

And one can see why there’s cause for concern on the glass when looking around the rest of the Big Ten.

Wisconsin outrebounded Pennsylvania by a dominating 40-22 margin in its Division I opener. Ditto for Illinois, the consensus Big Ten favorite, which allowed Delaware State 12 total rebounds while collecting 27 in its season opener.

The Gophers are aware that they need to improve if they expect to compete with Big Ten teams.

“We know rebounding will be especially important in the Big Ten,” said J’Son Stamper, who was recruited largely for his rebounding ability and ranked fourth nationally on the junior college level last year. “We’ve just got to really want the ball and go after it – it’s about attitude, and we’re working on that.”

The Gophers seem to have the attitude, but the real question is whether they have the height.

While Stamper is a heralded rebounder and won’t allow many guys to get around his football-playerlike, 233-pound frame, he’s only 6 feet 6 inches tall, and the Big Ten isn’t exactly the community college circuit.

So while Gophers coach Dan Monson expects to get some help on the glass from Stamper, he’s also put the onus on other players, such as 6-foot-9-inch freshman Dan Coleman, who grabbed just three boards – none defensive – against Lipscomb.

“Dan’s got great offensive talent, but we think we can measure his game in other ways,” Monson said after the Lipscomb game. “He needs to get defensive rebounds for us.”

Coleman and Stamper, along with the rest of the Gophers, will be tested on their rebounding prowess in the upcoming days. Minnesota takes on Furman in the Great Alaskan Shootout at 12:45 a.m. Thursday.

If they win, Minnesota will likely take on 19th-ranked Alabama at 8:30 p.m. Friday.

The seventh-place, fourth-place, third-place and championship games will take place Saturday. And with nobody expecting the Gophers to do too much damage, Monson said the experience will be a major plus for his young team and its rebounding goals.

“We’ll be playing five games in nine days here,” Monson said. “It’ll be interesting to see how we respond to adversity and how we build off of our mistakes.”