Tollackson likely back for tonight’s game

Sophomore center Jonathan Williams filled in for Tollackson the past few weeks.

Zach Eisendrath

The most consistent low-post presence the Minnesota men’s basketball team has to offer is finally set to return.

After missing seven games in three weeks because of a broken left hand, junior center Spencer Tollackson returns to the lineup tonight at 7 when the Gophers host Iowa at Williams Arena.

Tollackson averaged 12.5 points and 6.5 rebounds in 15 games this season, but interim coach Jim Molinari said he doesn’t know how many minutes Tollackson will play or how effective he will be in his return.

“I don’t expect a lot from him,” Molinari said. “I’d really like to give him a try Ö but it’s going to be a process (for him) to get back.”

Molinari said sophomore center Jonathan Williams will start and Tollackson will come off the bench.

In Tollackson’s absence, Molinari pushed Williams to be a factor on the offensive end of the court. Something must have clicked, because the 6-foot-9 275-pounder is putting up career numbers as of late, averaging 9.8 points and 8.7 rebounds per contest in Minnesota’s last three games.

“Scoring was something I wasn’t really looking for,” Williams said. “But it’s something that has come easier now.”

With his role likely to change with Tollackson’s return, Williams said he isn’t too concerned because he understands how valuable Tollackson is to the team.

“He’s going to change the game a lot,” Williams said of Tollackson. “People respect him in the Big Ten, and he’s a proven scorer.”

Still, the Gophers (9-14 overall, 3-6 Big Ten) maintain they will not change their game plan too much because of the return of their big man.

Redshirt freshman guard Kevin Payton said Tollackson’s return is an added bonus to a team that is playing well recently, winning two of its last three games.

“Everything is pretty much going to stay the same, just (Tollackson) is going to be there as another option,” Payton said. “The game plan isn’t going to change too much.”

While Minnesota might be playing the best basketball of its season, the same can be said for the Hawkeyes (13-10, 5-4). Iowa has won three of its last four contests including an upset victory over then-No. 25 Indiana on Saturday.

Senior guard Adam Haluska scored 33 points in Iowa’s win over the Hoosiers and is currently the Big Ten’s leading scorer, averaging 21 points per game in conference play.

Haluska scored a game-high 22 points in the Hawkeyes’ 60-49 win over the Gophers on Jan. 13 in Iowa City.

That was Minnesota’s first game without Tollackson, and the Gophers were in disarray from the outset, scoring a season-worst 16 points in the first half.

But after three weeks of trying to find an identity without Tollackson, Payton said Minnesota is better off.

“We grew a lot without having (Tollackson) as that dominating inside presence,”

Payton said. “Big Jon (Williams) stepped up tremendously. I think the (team’s) growing process has been tremendous.”

And the word “process” is what Molinari is labeling Tollackson’s return – warning fans not to expect too much too soon.

Earlier in the season, Tollackson was in the best shape of his life. Now, after not playing for nearly a month, Molinari doesn’t know if Tollackson can get back to his old self on the court.

But that doesn’t mean the Gophers won’t see what’s left in Tollackson’s tank.

“Our team knows that we need Spencer,” Molinari said. “He’s been a major cog on our team. Hopefully we can keep those guys growing and add him to the mix, and hopefully we’ll be much more formidable.”