After subpar effort in opener, team looking for defensive improvement

C.J. Spang

After the Minnesota men’s basketball team defeated Southwest Minnesota State on Saturday, coach Dan Monson was anything but pleased with his team’s performance.

Now, after watching the game film Tuesday morning, there is somewhat less concern going into tonight’s final exhibition game at home against Duluth at 7 p.m.

“To give them credit, there was some things that you can build of off,” Monson said. “It wasn’t as disastrous as maybe the final score or the flow of the game would indicate.”

For a team that prided itself on defense last season, Saturday’s win over the Mustangs raised serious concerns about the defense.

“I think we’re having trouble being in two places, which is what good defensive teams do,” Monson said. “They help and they recover.

“As we tell them, you have to play hard enough that you get in two places at one time.”

This season, the Gophers are without Brent Lawson and Aaron Robinson, who finished second and fourth in steals per game behind conference leader Vincent Grier, and 7-foot center Jeff Hagen, who was second in the Big Ten in blocks per game.

And the big question for Minnesota is whether or not 6-foot-9-inch sophomore Spencer Tollackson can fill the void left by Hagen’s graduation.

In the first exhibition game, Tollackson had six points, six rebounds and one block, hardly Hagen-like numbers. But it is a starting point.

“I think we had a lot of preseason jitters, just excited to get back out there,” senior forward J’son Stamper said. “But we’ll be fine. We’re getting the kinks out in practice and we’ll get it right for the games.”

Said Tollackson: “I think we feel right now that there’s nothing we did in that game that’s not fixable.”

The other question facing Minnesota tonight is who is going to redshirt this season.

Before losing guards Rico Tucker and Ryan Saunders for academic reasons and to injury, respectively, it looked like freshman Jamal Abu-Shamala would redshirt for this season.

Now Abu-Shamala is one of only five guards left on the roster who can play.

Saturday’s exhibition was supposed to help determine who would redshirt this season, but after the team’s performance, Monson isn’t any closer to a decision.

“I’d like to take a look at the freshmen again at some point if possible on Thursday,” Monson said. “Then meet with them individually next week and kind of see where we’re at.

“I think mid-next week we’ll make some decisions on some guys.”

Webster signs

Bryce Webster, the 6-foot-10 1/2-inch, 250-pound senior center from St. Thomas Academy signed Wednesday morning to play for the Gophers in 2006-2007.

Scout.com has Webster listed as the 18th best center in country.