Grier’s return helps Gophers beat UNLV

C.J. Spang

A whole new season for Minnesota’s men’s basketball team began Saturday when the first Gophers starter was announced.

As senior guard Vincent Grier ran onto the court, giving high-fives to his teammates, the 11,663 people at Williams Arena let out a roar of approval for the return of the star senior.

Even with a plastic brace on his shooting hand, Grier scored 19 points in Minnesota’s 72-67 win over Nevada-Las Vegas.

“It was really a ball game where they were a little more the aggressor, a little more physical, got loose balls, did the little things better than we did,”

UNLV (2-5) coach Lon Kruger said. “I like the club… and I think they’re going to have an exciting season.”

Saturday’s game was a surprisingly early return for Grier, who broke a bone in his shooting hand just four weeks ago in the season-opener against North Dakota State on Nov. 18.

After meeting with the doctor earlier in the week, Grier was allowed to decide for himself whether or not he would try to practice on Thursday and Friday.

“Leaving it up to Vince if he can play or not is like leaving it up to my 2-year-old if he can have candy or not,” coach Dan Monson said. “He’s still not 100 percent and I think we all can see that.”

Still, Grier was cleared at 10 a.m. Saturday, just two hours before the game.

Once he was out on the floor, Grier wasted no time getting back into the action, scoring the Gophers’ first four points of the contest.

But UNLV showed no signs of intimidation and built a 10-point lead with 9:52 remaining in the first half.

However, a 20-4 run by Minnesota (5-2) in the final 9:52 of the first half left UNLV trailing 37-31 at the half.

That run was capped off by an unusual four-point play by Grier, when he was intentionally fouled by the Rebel’s Curtis Terry. Even with Terry yanking on Grier’s jersey, he made the lay-in and both his free throws.

UNLV didn’t start the second half any better, missing their first four shots, as the Rebels’ deficit increased to 10 points.

UNLV did manage to fight back and regain the lead, 48-47, with 11:10 to play, but foul trouble and clutch Gophers shooting put them away in the end.

Junior guard Michael Umeh led UNLV with 19 points, Terry had 12, senior forward Louis Amundson had 11 and senior forward Dustin Villepigue chipped in 10.

But Grier and the rest of the Gophers were too much.

Besides Grier, Minnesota had two other players score in double figures. Sophomore Dan Coleman had 16 points off the bench and senior guard Adam Boone added 10 points.

“Coach Monson made it (clear) to me when I come back it was going to be a great team,” Grier said. “(The team was) going to be better equipped… When I went out, they played together, they played with poise, they played (with) confidence, so when I got back in it was just another bonus.

“They held the team together till I got back. Now I’m back and hopefully we can go on with this run.”

Payton probably out

Because of his slow recovery from shoulder surgery, freshman guard Kevin Payton likely will redshirt the rest of the 2005-2006 season.

“Kevin Payton is probably, in all likelihood, out for the year as (the doctors) tell me,” Monson said. “He may be cleared to do some things in practice here in the near future, but they said in all likelihood of just going full, (it) doesn’t look good.”