Lowly Penn State another mental test for men’s hoops

Brian Hall

Last February, Minnesota forward Michael Bauer sat on the sidelines and watched the Gophers basketball team suffer its worst home loss since 1994.

Minnesota was on the short end of an 82-62 drubbing by Penn State, its first win ever at Williams Arena.

Bauer was sidelined with a broken arm suffered five games earlier. But the pain in his arm was nothing compared to the pain of watching his teammates take a beating at the hands of the Lions without him.

“It was really hard to watch that game,” Bauer said. “I was sitting there and I felt helpless. It was one game where the team really gave up hope.”

The Gophers (11-7, 4-3 Big Ten) invite Penn State (5-13, 1-6) into Williams Arena on Wednesday with last year’s game a distant memory. And one they want to keep distant.

“We know (Penn State) is a team you can’t take for granted,” Bauer said. “If you do they can come in and take your goods.”

Pulling out a win might not require the effort exerted against Ohio State last weekend, but the Gophers are not looking past the Lions.

“Record-wise and talent-wise, they’re not as good as Ohio State,” senior Dusty Rychart said. “But, this is the Big Ten and anyone can beat anyone on any given night. We can’t look at Indiana on Saturday. Were just going to approach it like any other game and try to go hard like we did against Ohio State.”

Added co-Big Ten Player of the Week Travarus Bennett: “I’m hoping we’re not coming out here thinking Penn State’s going to be a team we can walk over. We have to play Penn State like they’re the No. 1 team in the Big Ten.”

As in the past, the Lions are led by their outside attack.

Although each of the Crispin brothers have moved on, starting guards Brandon Watkins and Sharif Chambliss have filled their spots, with each player averaging double figures in scoring.

Even senior forward Tyler Smith is a 50 percent shooter from beyond the arc while averaging double figures.

“They are a dangerous shooting team,” coach Dan Monson said. “They shoot a lot of three-pointers. Their shots are high risk, but also have the chance for high reward.”

It’s the reward that has Minnesota wary.

In last season’s matchup at Williams Arena, Penn State shot 12 for 25 from beyond the three-point line.

“If you look at the games they have played they always have a good stretch,” Monson said. “We just have to cut down on the length of that stretch before they end up surprising you.”

Surprise is one word the Gophers hope is not uttered Wednesday night.

The Lions have been outscored by an average of 11 points per game in the Big Ten, worst in the conference and have been on the wrong side of double-digit losses in three of their last four games.

Meanwhile, Minnesota’s starting five is still in doubt. But, Monson is leaning toward the same lineup he employed against the Buckeyes.

“I told them we have to compete today like we did last week and not know (the starting lineup),” Monson said. “Everybody’s got to go out and prove again what we want them to do.”

Bauer, who might once again be held out of the starting five, just wants the opportunity to contribute this time around.

“I just have to go hard all the time,” Bauer said. “I need to do all the little things. Do what the coaches want, take charges, and try to be what I have been the whole season, the emotional leader.

“As long as we all do that, and take care of what we need to do we will be alright.”

Brian Hall welcomes comments at [email protected]