Lewis: I don’t seek vindication

by Murali Balaji

If Gophers forward Quincy Lewis is upset about being snubbed for the Big Ten Player of the Year award, he’s not showing it.
As Minnesota (17-9, 8-8) prepares to play Illinois (11-17, 3-13) tonight in the first round of the Big Ten tournament in Chicago, Lewis and his teammates have been careful not to stray from their focus in playing for the conference tournament title.
Lewis dismissed the notion that the tournament would be an opportunity to vindicate himself in front of the coaches and the media who didn’t vote for him.
“It’s kind of funny how this thing became a me-versus-them issue,” Lewis said. “It was a great honor to be in the top three for the award, and I was blessed to have a great season.”
“But this isn’t my team. This is Coach (Clem) Haskins’ team, and it is my job to do everything he wants me to do.”
Despite his refusal to draw attention away from his teammates, the United Center will provide another stage for Lewis to exhibit his graceful skills.
Of course, the arena is quite familiar to gracefulness. For a long time, it housed one of the most spectacular athletic showmen of all time, a man who simply came to be known to the world as Michael.
“When you see that statue (of Michael Jordan) up front, it gives you a buzz,” Lewis said. “I grew up watching him play in those big games, and now the big games are what I live for.”
Lewis isn’t the only Gopher with big game experience. Forward Miles Tarver was a key reserve on the 1997 Final Four team and guard Kevin Clark won the MVP award at the NIT last season.
“I think it’s important to have veteran players,” Haskins said. “Miles, Kevin, and Quincy have been in big games. They’ve been all around the country in their four years.”
With an NCAA tournament bid almost assured, the Gophers aren’t looking past the Illini. Even though the two teams played only once this season, Haskins is confident that his players are prepared for tonight’s game.
“We’ve played them one game, but our players can watch them on TV,” Haskins said. “They’ll get so sick of watching the tapes that they’ll be ready to go out and play.”
But Haskins has his own tapes to watch, particularly of the players he plans to use in a set rotation during the tournament. Much of the Gophers’ struggles earlier this season had to do with their inability to get consistent bench production, something Haskins hopes to avoid by giving his starters more time on the court.
“We will go with our starting group a little longer,” Haskins said. “If Miles’ back holds up, and he can stay out of foul trouble, I’m going to try to play him over 30 minutes.”
In its 75-63 win over Illinois last month, Minnesota effectively shut down freshman phenom Cory Bradford, who was held to 5-of-15 shooting. But Bradford has been torrid of late, averaging over 20 points in his last three games.
“We’ve got to eliminate his attempts,” Haskins said. “He’s a sophomore, but he plays like a fifth- or sixth-year player.”
While Bradford has sizzled, his frontcourt has been terrible this season. But Tarver said he isn’t ready to take the Illinois frontcourt lightly.
“We feel we have the advantage in height, but Illinois is tough and aggressive,” Tarver said. “Kyle (Sanden), Joel (Przybilla), and I have our work cut out for us.”