Minnesota gets first true test tonight against Virginia

For the undefeated Gophers, this is the first test. After opening the season 6-0, they play Virginia, their toughest game of the season so far, tonight at Williams Arena. The Cavaliers are the first major-conference team Minnesota has played this year, and are one of just two on the nonconference schedule. The Gophers beat the likes of Concordia-St. Paul, Eastern Washington and North Dakota State, but haven’t dominated those games like many thought they would. They had a scare against Bowling Green and needed a layup with 19 seconds left to beat Colorado State. âÄúThat’s something everyone is excited for, to come out and show what we have and prove that we can hang with the teams that are good,âÄù senior Jamal Abu-Shamala said. The team spent some of its postgame time after Saturday’s win against North Dakota State looking forward to Virginia, junior guard Lawrence Westbrook said. It will be a way for coach Tubby Smith to gauge his team before it plays No. 11 Louisville on Dec. 20. âÄúWe try to build our schedule and program that way,âÄù Smith said before the season. âÄúThere’s a certain way you build your program. You don’t throw them under the bus or into the fire, you bring them along so they can learn and grow.âÄù The game is part of the annual Big Ten/ACC Challenge, which the Gophers have struggled with since its inception in 1999. After last year’s 15-point loss to Florida State, Minnesota is 3-6 in the Challenge. The Big Ten has never won the Challenge. Even though Virginia finished near the bottom of the ACC last year and has lost two straight games, players say it will be a chance to prove things to a national audience âÄî the game is on ESPN2, Minnesota’s first nationally televised game. âÄúIf it was up to me, I’d play top-10 teams every game,âÄù Westbrook said. âÄúWe all want to be warriors out there.âÄù Freshmen centers may play together Virginia’s big front line âÄî including centers Assane Sene and Jerome Meyinsse âÄî may force Smith to make some lineup changes, he said. Smith has been reluctant to play true freshmen Colton Iverson and Ralph Sampson III at the same time, partly because of foul trouble they got in early this year, but said he might need to go with a âÄúbig front line.âÄù Iverson scored 20 points Wednesday against Eastern Washington and Ralph Sampson III scored 12, all in the final 10 minutes, against North Dakota State.