Hard-charging Bennett paces victory

by Jabari Ritchie

Minnesota guard Travarus Bennett is a quiet player off the basketball court, but in the Gophers’ upset victory over Ohio State last Saturday, his jump shot said everything his team had been waiting to hear.

With perfect shooting from the field and the free-throw line for a career-high 21 points as well as a game-leading seven rebounds, the senior almost single-handedly ended Minnesota’s two-game losing streak at a key point in the season.

“He didn’t miss a shot, but he also didn’t take any tough ones,” said head coach Dan Monson. “He had one three that was maybe a little bit of a challenge, but everything else was just simplifying the game. That’s what we’re trying to get everybody to learn.”

The effort also earned Bennett co-Big Ten player of the week honors with Indiana’s Jared Jeffries.

“I was kind of surprised,” Bennett said about being named a player of the week for the first time in his career. “I haven’t really been thinking about that at all. This morning, I was headed to weights and the secretary asked me if I heard what I gotÖ. I thought I had a parking ticket or something.”

While Monson chose to bench two of the Gophers’ three captains ñ forward Michael Bauer and point guard Kevin Burleson ñ at the start of Saturday’s game, Bennett led by example. Besides leading the game in points and rebounds, he picked up two assists, two steals and a block.

“I told the kids I’m not about individual awards, but when somebody like Travarus gets it I take it as a team award because he typifies teamwork,” Monson said. “He’s playing out of position as much as anybody, but he has no turnovers.”

He has just 19 turnovers to 27 assists this season.

“Bennett is probably our best player all around,” said senior forward Dusty Rychart, who was named conference player of the week on Dec. 3. “Defensively and offensively, he does all the small things that help us winÖ. He’s averaging under 10 points a game, but he does so much more for this team. He brings great attitude and a lot of hustle. He’s a hard-nosed player and that rubs off on the rest of us.”

Before Saturday, Bennett had excelled defensively while averaging 8.5 points per game. A 6-foot-7, 205-pound forward who has started at guard for most of the season, Bennett leads the team with 37 steals and averages 4.8 rebounds a game.

“As you can see, day in and day out, all he does is hustle and play good hard defense,” senior guard Kerwin Fleming said before Monday’s practice. “On Saturday, his offense just fell into place.”

Even after his performance against Ohio State, Bennett has yet to join six of his teammates in taking 100 shots this season. He has started 16 games.

“I just didn’t want to be out there like a standing person,” he said. “If the shot was there, I wanted to be able to take it. I wanted Ohio State to focus on more than our other four players.”


ï After mixing up Minnesota’s starting lineup for the first time since its Big Ten season began, Monson said Monday he has not decided on starters for Wednesday’s game against Penn State.

Fleming and forward Jerry Holman got their third and second starts while both Bauer and Burleson sat out for the first time this year. Burleson started each of the first 17 games while Bauer started 16.

“I told them we have to compete today like we did last week and not know (the starting lineup),” Monson said. “I’ve always had set lineups. I think starting lineups are overrated, but I also think that for this team right now it’s healthy.”

Jabari Ritchie covers men’s basketball and welcomes comments at [email protected]