Minnesota hosts South Dakota State

Zach Eisendrath

One week ago, Jim Molinari woke up worrying about fixing a defense which gave up a season-high 12 three-pointers the night before.

Seven days later, Minnesota’s interim men’s basketball coach has many more concerns to deal with, such as how to regroup a collection of players coming off a disheartening double-overtime loss.

And the Gophers (3-6 overall, 0-0 Big Ten) have little time to sulk after their 88-81 loss to the University of Alabama-Birmingham.

Minnesota plays the first of three home games in six days tonight when the Gophers welcome South Dakota State to Williams Arena. Tip-off is slated for 7 p.m.

“I don’t have big hangovers with winning or big hangovers with losing,” Molinari said after Tuesday night’s loss. “I think we just need to get back and get ready.”

“Ready” is something Molinari appears always to be. Whether he can turn Minnesota’s season around remains to be seen, but he may have already found solutions to some of the Gophers’ early-season woes.

After dealing with major ball-handling issues throughout the first month of the season, Molinari said he has finally found the man who can handle the team’s point guard duties – junior Limar Wilson.

“We’re going to put the ball in his hands,” Molinari said.

Molinari might also be on the right path in putting an end to Minnesota’s rebounding deficiencies – in large part because of the production of sophomore center Jonathan Williams, as of late.

After playing sparingly under former coach Dan Monson, Williams has come to life under Molinari’s direction. Williams played a season-high 17 minutes Tuesday night and grabbed eight rebounds.

Finally receiving consistent minutes, Williams said he is taking Monson’s advice while out on the court.

“He said, ‘It’s not a matter how much you play, it’s what you do while you’re out there,’ ” Williams said.

Williams said he relates well with Molinari because Williams’ passion – defense – is also Molinari’s number one priority.

“Personally, I’m drawn to coach Mo,” Williams said. “He preaches defense and that’s what I love to do.”

In his first two games at the helm, Molinari has been teaming Williams, along with junior center Spencer Tollackson, to fix problems on the glass and shore up the team’s interior defense.

Williams should continue to see consistent playing time tonight when Minnesota battles the Jackrabbits (2-7, 0-0 North Central Conference).

Coach Scott Nagy’s squad is going through the growing pains which accompany a team just beginning its second full year at the Division I level.

After going 9-20 a year ago, South Dakota State has had a disappointing start to this season – losing its first six games before winning two of its last three, thanks in part to sophomore guard Matt Cadwell.

Cadwell is scoring 14.8 points per game and playing 35 minutes per contest – nearly 10 more minutes more than any of his teammates.

But for a Gophers team still trying to recover from the shock of Monson’s resignation, followed by a devastating loss, other players – or, for that matter, other teams – are a nonfactor, according to sophomore guard Jamal Abu-Shamala.

“We’ve got to play better before we can concentrate on beating somebody else,” he said. “We’re getting back to work. We’ve just got to keep grinding.”