McKenzie will miss exhibition tonight

The Gophers guard is out with an injury but is expected to be back for Minnesota’s opener.

Zach Eisendrath

The Minnesota men’s basketball team’s version of lineup musical chairs this preseason will continue once again tonight when the Gophers host Southwest Minnesota State in their final exhibition game at Williams Arena.

Junior forward Jamal Abu-Shamala will see the court for the first time this year after sitting out Minnesota’s 94-68 victory over Minnesota State last Thursday with a deep cut to his right hand.

Senior guard Lawrence McKenzie, however, who put up a team-high 24 points last Thursday, will likely be held out of the game with a pulled groin.

Coach Tubby Smith said sidelining McKenzie tonight is mostly a precautionary measure, and that he likely could play had it been a regular-season game.

Still, Smith admitted injuries to two projected starters this preseason have disrupted, somewhat, how he can evaluate his lineup.

“(Injuries) kind of disrupt your pattern about who would be playing most, who would be in the game at that particular time, because they all bring something different to the lineup,” he said.

Back in action

All week, Abu-Shamala has heard jokes about the freak injury that kept him off the court for nearly a week.

“Get the kid a dishwasher” has been the most frequent of them.

While washing dishes last Sunday night, Abu-Shamala cut his right shooting hand to the bone and needed six stitches for the wound.

“I just couldn’t believe it,” Abu-Shamala said about his initial reaction to the injury. “The first thing that came to mind was we had a game Thursday and practice the next day. I was upset.”

Abu-Shamala said when he showed up at practice last Monday he thought he could just tape up his hand and play, but the team doctor thought otherwise.

Instead, he had to watch from the sideline as the Gophers shot 54 percent from the field and put up 94 points.

“I was excited. It was fun to watch; I wish I could have been out there,” Abu-Shamala said.

After returning to practice Saturday – with his hand heavily wrapped – Abu-Shamala said he is ready for action.

“As long as I have my fingers showing, I can get a shot off,” he said.

Perhaps surprisingly, Abu-Shamala, one of the Gophers’ top perimeter scorers, said he wants to use his first, and only, preseason game to see how he fits in with Smith’s ball-line defensive scheme, which held Minnesota State to 37 percent shooting Thursday.

“I just want to play good defense,” he said. “I want to see how I fit in with the pressure defense. We do it every day in practice, but it’s different when you play against someone else.”

Smith said he is looking forward to seeing Abu-Shamala for the first time in an actual game setting.

“He looked good in practice (Monday) so he’ll play a lot,” Smith said. “Jamal can really stroke it; he makes shots, and he plays with a lot of heart and hustle.”

Prepared for all comers

After losing to Division-II Winona State in the exhibition season last year, Minnesota, better than any team, knows it can’t take any opponent for granted.

The Gophers are also well aware that preseason Big Ten favorite Michigan State, ranked as high as eighth in the country in some preseason polls, lost to Division II Grand Valley State on Saturday.

So despite the lack of name recognition associated with the visiting Mustangs, Minnesota should be mentally prepared for their final regular season tune-up.

“You can’t take any team lightly. You have to go out there prepared,” McKenzie said. “It’s a chance for us to get better and a chance to gain more confidence.”