Ex-backups make solid showing in Iowa

Sarah Mitchell

IOWA CITY — With just 2:03 remaining in the game, Hawkeyes men’s basketball fans stood, waving good-bye to Gophers center Ryan Wildenborg while dizzying themselves with a breathless “ooohhh” cheer.
The freshman had just fouled out of the contest, which ended in a 71-59 Minnesota loss.
Coming off a career-best game, however, Wildenborg could face the crowd and Gophers coach Dan Monson.
“Ryan Wildenborg was one player that I felt was ready to play,” Monson said. “He came out and did set a little bit of a tone for us.”
Wildenborg and junior center Kyle Sanden are taking the fast track down the learning curve in the absence of former Minnesota center Joel Przybilla, who recently declared himself eligible for the NBA draft. At the time of Przybilla’s departure nearly two weeks ago, Wildenborg and Sanden had few minutes on the floor between them.
Sanden did not make his season debut until late January because of academic reasons and Wildenborg was in his first year with the program.
“There really isn’t time to learn,” Sanden said. “The season is almost over. Right now it’s kind of do what you’ve got to do. We’ve got to figure something out quick.”
With just two more regular season games remaining, Wildenborg and Sanden seem to be easing into their new roles. Both fared well against Iowa on Sunday.
Getting the starting nod, Wildenborg added 10 points, eight boards and two blocks. Considering Wildenborg was matched up against Hawkeyes senior center Jacob Jaacks, Wildenborg made a statement.
“I just tried to get out there and get some rebounds,” Wildenborg said. “Right now I have to learn a lot more a lot quicker. But you know I’m learning a lot in the minutes I’m getting.”
Sanden’s playing time has grown, too. Playing in just his eighth game of the season, the 6-foot-11 center picked up seven points and one rebound.
“I thought Wildenborg and Sanden did an admirable job,” Monson said.
Still, the two have many strides to take before being in the same category as Przybilla.
The last time Minnesota played Iowa — Jan. 12 of this year — Przybilla’s numbers factored into the Gophers 85-82 win. Przybilla posted 28 points, 18 rebounds, five assists, seven blocked shots and three steals.
“(Wildenborg and Sanden) are very nice players, but I think there’s a difference when you’ve got the presence like Przybilla that’s out of there,” Hawkeyes coach Steve Alford said.
There’s an obvious difference between Przybilla and Sanden or Wildenborg. But some day, Wildenborg and Sanden might be the ones the team rallies around.
“It takes a while to get acclimated to the new positions,” Sanden said. “Of course, there are going to be mistakes, but you’ve just got to keep going.”

Sarah Mitchell covers men’s basketball and welcomes comments at [email protected]