Gophers roll in first exhibition

Minnesota overpowers Minnesota-Duluth.

by Marco LaNave

It was hard to see much weakness in MinnesotaâÄôs 114-47 win over Minnesota-Duluth at Williams Arena Thursday night. The young players looked comfortable, even spectacular, and the veterans made their usual big impact, as the Gophers shot 60 percent from the field, with six players scoring in double figures and nearly everyone having his spurt of success. âÄúWe were just on top of our game tonight,âÄù head coach Tubby Smith said. The Gophers forced Minnesota-Duluth into 21 first-half turnovers that led to 28 points and a 50-13 halftime lead for Minnesota. âÄú[Defense] usually leads to our offense,âÄù senior guard Lawrence Westbrook said. It helped Westbrook, who had a nearly 15-minute scoring drought, get going in the second half. Defensive pressure and quick transitions led to four layups for Westbrook in the first four minutes of the second half. He had 12 second-half points, all within the first five minutes, and finished with a game-high 19. Senior forward Damian Johnson looked comfortable from the beginning, as he had four steals and 10 points in the first 10 minutes of play. He finished with 16 points, a team-high 10 rebounds, seven steals, and three blocks. Smith said he was impressed by sophomores Ralph Sampson III (13 points, six rebounds, six blocks) and Colton Iverson (12 points, four rebounds, two steals). The two big men showed range and mobility at both ends of the court, and neither committed a turnover or foul in a combined 39 minutes. Those were all keys to the Gophers win, but the story would be incomplete without freshman forward Rodney Williams, who came off the bench to provide highlights after a slow start. Williams looked less-than-astonishing in his first layup attempt midway through the first half, as he was fouled and made 1-of-2 free throws. He committed a foul and a turnover before being taken out. When Williams returned five minutes before halftime, he looked like a different player. He made a steal and a layup almost immediately and later made his first 3-point shot that started the student section chanting his name. He followed that with another steal and made a pair of slick passes to set up easy baskets, but his best play came in the final minute of the half. He grabbed a ball among players from both teams and soared over all of them to make a two-handed dunk that capped the GophersâÄô 21-0 run and brought a great roar as Minnesota held a 37-point halftime lead. âÄúThe dunk Rodney had was probably âÄòSports CenterâÄôs No. 1 [play] for the whole year,âÄù said Johnson, who had four dunks in the game. âÄúYouâÄôve got to love the way he gets up there.âÄù Williams made 4-of-5 field goals and finished with 11 points. âÄúI like how [Williams] played with some poise; he really didnâÄôt force anything, and that spectacular dunk âÄî heâÄôs a real crowd-pleaser,âÄù Smith said. While none topped Williams, several other players had stretches of distinction. Sophomore guard Devoe Joseph scored 8 and 6 points in separate two-minute periods and finished with 18 points. After a couple of missed shots, junior guard Blake Hoffarber made a 3-point shot to start a personal 7-point run during a less than two minute span in the second half. Freshman point guard Justin Cobbs had 4 points and four assists in the second half. Even Dominique Dawson, the walk-on freshman forward who entered the game with 5:34 remaining, added 4 points, three rebounds and a steal. It all demonstrated what has been building as the Gophers prepare for their Nov. 13 opener. âÄúThatâÄôs why you play these exhibition games: [to] give guys a chance to show what they know,âÄù Smith said.