Less than 10 minutes remained in the game against Wisconsin on Wednesday night when Minnesota’s men’s basketball forward Michael Bauer received a bounce pass and slammed home a dunk.
While the Gophers cut the deficit to five against the Badgers in a game they would eventually lose, the significance of that moment was the three players who touched the ball on that possession.
Aaron Robinson brought the ball up the court and passed at the top of the arc to Brent Lawson, who found a cutting Bauer to the basket.
The Gophers bench – primarily Lawson, Robinson and Bauer – has seen extended action lately, in part because the team is searching for a spark, but also because they have come through with their chances.
With Sunday’s game against Illinois (14-5, 5-3 Big Ten) a daunting task on paper, Minnesota (8-12, 0-8) will need all of the lift it can get from its bench.
“We see ourselves as the team spark,” said Robinson, a junior. “We know we got to get the team going. We got to dive for loose balls, take a charge Ö bring that scrappiness.”
The Gophers entered the season unsure what contributions their bench would make. During the nonconference schedule, when the Gophers went 8-5, the bench saw sporadic action becaue of close scores.
It was during that stretch Minnesota reserve players figured out their roles.
Bauer, a starter for the majority of the past two seasons, found himself moved to the bench.
Known for his emotional play, Bauer is becoming a bigger asset when he enters from the bench.
In his last four games, Bauer averaged 10 points per game, including 10 points in Wisconsin’s 80-66 win Wednesday night.
“We are a team struggling,” the senior said in late January. “We need people to show up every night.”
Robinson and Lawson, two members of a group nicknamed the “B-unit” which includes sub-to-starters Jeff Hagen and Stan Gaines, have also provided a lift.
A 5-foot-10-inch guard from Rockford, Ill., Robinson has brought energy and established himself as a hard-nosed defender.
Against Michigan State on Jan. 28, Robinson started and responded with nine first-half points.
“As long as you bring energy on both ends it doesn’t matter whether you start the game,” Robinson said. “As you get older and mature, you just got to learn your role and help the team. My ambition is for whatever it takes for the team to win.”
In his past four games, Robinson has played nine or more minutes.
While Robinson had provided the energy, Lawson has shown a newfound shooting confidence.
The Gophers hope additional options on offense will help alleviate some of the scoring load from Kris Humphries, who averages 22.3 points per game this season.
Lawson has set career highs in almost every significant offensive category this season and has seen extended action since Moe Hargrow’s departure last month.
“I think the longer you go in a season, the more teams are going to focus on Kris,” Lawson said. “You need guys to come off of the bench and knock in some shots.”
Minnesota guard Ben Johnson – who has started every game except one this season – has noticed the bench players’ impact on the team and has one request.
“When you get playing time, you get to show what you can do,” Johnson said. “I hope they can continue to do it.”