Minnesota focusing on focusing vs. Chicago St.

The Cougars come to Williams Arena for a 7 p.m. tipoff today against Minnesota.

by Bob Wothe

Believe it or not, athletes have finals too.

And because Minnesota’s men’s basketball team plays tonight, on the eve of many final exams, Minnesota men’s basketball coach Dan Monson said he’s concerned about the team’s focus.

“Sometimes, this is a harder week than next week, depending on what classes guys have,” Monson said. “Vince (Grier) and J(‘son Stamper) haven’t had to deal with finals at this level yet.”

Accordingly, Grier and Stamper did not practice Monday, studying instead.

But they’ll be back tonight as Minnesota faces its next test, Chicago State at 7 p.m. at Williams Arena.

Chicago State is 0-5 and has lost back-to-back games to Big Ten teams Northwestern and Illinois by a combined 44 points.

But Gophers players are well-aware that they’re not the No. 1 Illini. The Gophers said they have to take seriously a Cougars squad that will be bolstered by the return of Craig Franklin, last year’s leading scorer who missed the first five games with academic problems.

“We want to get a win at any cost,” freshman Spencer Tollackson said. “I want to see us come out with a lot of energy and keep it going the whole game.”

With finals and the holiday season, consistently playing with energy will likely be the biggest theme for the Gophers during their upcoming seven-game homestand.

All signs point to a Gophers sweep of the rest of their relatively weak nonconference schedule through December and into the Big Ten season, but senior Brent Lawson cautioned against jumping to conclusions.

“Every game is winnable, but at the same time, we’ve got to come out and play,” Lawson said. “If we don’t show up every night, we could get blown out by anybody.”

Although Chicago State, St. Francis, North Carolina-Greensboro, Coppin State and Loyola Marymount are unlikely to play in the NCAA Tournament in March, Lawson said the team needs to play them as though they will.

“We need to look at it like every game is to make it to the NCAA Tournament,” Lawson said. “We’ve got to get as many wins now as we can, because they’ll be a lot tougher to get in the Big Ten season.”