Sampson III keeps improving

For most of the season, Ralph Sampson III has looked like the freshman he is on the court. While his high potential and extremely gifted genes have shown from time to time, being the son of former three-time NCAA Player of the Year Ralph Sampson II, the Gophers six-foot, 11-inch forward has somehow been under the radar. A season high 17 points against High Point in the last non-conference game of the season and a strong finish in the Indiana game on Jan. 25 âÄì 13 points, eight rebounds and six blocks âÄì have given Minnesota fans glimpses of what is to come for Sampson. Add one more notch on the growth chart for Sampson in the Gophers 59-36 romping of Illinois: 10 points on 8-of-10 free throw shooting, seven rebounds, three assists in a team-high 31 minutes. While Sampson did not display the same scoring ability as he did against the Hoosiers, he provided just what the Gophers needed against Illinois. In the low-scoring affair that was ThursdayâÄôs game, Sampson gave Minnesota the strong rebounding and defensive presence that it desperately craved. âÄúItâÄôs just a mentality of grabbing rebounds and doing the little things to help that team out that makes me successful,âÄù Sampson said. The freshmanâÄôs passing was also solid against the Illini, finding fellow freshman post-partner Colton Iverson on high-low passes from the top of the key. âÄúColton and I have been gelling together on the court and playing to our strengths, and tonight it showed a lot,âÄù Sampson said. Minnesota attempted early-on to get the ball into Iverson and Sampson on the block. While post moves did not convert into buckets often for Iverson and Sampson, their inside presence was still more than Illinois could handle. âÄúThe interior players really set the tempo early on,âÄù Minnesota coach Tubby Smith said. Sampson helped the Gophers outrebound Illinois 44-29, using his long arms to snag away three offensive rebounds of his own. âÄúCoaches are always preaching to us about rebounds,âÄù Sampson said. âÄúWe just try to really go after rebounds.âÄù Sampson played a season-high 30 minutes against Indiana on Sunday, and his 31 minutes were just as crucial for Minnesota to defend IllinoisâÄô seven-foot, one-inch center Mike Tisdale. Tisdale came into ThursdayâÄôs game averaging 11.7 points and four rebounds per game, and along six-foot, nine-inch forward Mike Davis âÄì 11 points and seven rebounds per game âÄì the Illini feature a formidable post-tandem. But on Thursday Tisdale was held to just four points, while Davis was shut out. âÄúTisdale struggled with their size and bulkiness,âÄù Illinois coach Bruce Weber said. âÄúHeâÄôs had a good year, but youâÄôve got to do it every night and he didnâÄôt do it tonight.âÄù Sampson has been criticized this season for being soft down low in his post moves to the basket and also in rebounding. But late against Indiana and throughout the entire game against Illinois, Sampson showed a new passion and demeanor, using his unique athletic ability and length to sky high for rebounds and clamp them into his hands. After the past two games, Sampson is looking less like the freshman he is, and more like the experienced post presence the Gophers need him to be. âÄúHe battles, heâÄôs very competitive for a young guy,âÄù Weber said of Sampson. âÄúHeâÄôs got a good future. In the summer is where he has to make progress now. HeâÄôs had a great freshman year, probably better than they expected.