Minnesota continues to roll thanks in large part to Andre Hollins, Rodney Williams and Trevor Mbakwe, and a visit from road-challenged Lafayette doesn't appear likely to slow the Golden Gophers down.
In its final tune-up before opening Big Ten play, No. 13 Minnesota meets the Leopards Saturday night after having more than a week off.The Gophers (11-1) have outscored opponents by an average of 14.3 points during a seven-game winning streak that has followed their only loss, 89-71 to then-No. 5 Duke on Nov. 22.Minnesota hasn't taken the court since beating North Dakota State 70-57 on Dec. 11 behind a big effort from its dynamic frontcourt duo. Williams had a season-high 19 points while Mbakwe scored 14 to go along with a career-best 18 rebounds in 21 minutes."Rodney's a threat because there's not many '4' men as athletic as him, with his skill set. There aren't many people as strong as Trev. It makes life easier for a point guard," said a smiling Hollins, who leads the Gophers with 13.5 points and 3.6 assists per game.Mbakwe, a sixth-year senior, continues to come off the bench as he works his way back from a torn ACL that sidelined him for most of last season."He's the best rebounder I've ever coached and I say that every time," said Tubby Smith, whose team hosts No. 20 Michigan State on Dec. 31 to begin conference action."He's learning to develop other phases, other parts of his game, other than just sheer power. Sometimes you do that out of necessity, and I think that's what he's learning to do."While Mbakwe's mark of 16.3 rebounds per 40 minutes ranks second in the country, he was quick to praise Williams, who's averaging career highs of 13.4 points and 6.3 boards."He's a great player. Every year he adds more to it. He's playing with a lot of confidence," Mbakwe said. "He just takes pressure off me. Teams aren't able to lock in on us, because they have to respect the other guy. We feed off each other pretty well."Minnesota has taken 42 of 43 home games against non-conference opponents, including 21 straight by an average of 16.9 points. There isn't much reason to think that trend won't continue in the Gophers' first matchup against Lafayette (5-8).The Leopards are coming off back-to-back home wins, beating Division III Arcadia 86-62 on Tuesday. Sophomores Seth Hinrichs and Dan Trist led the way with 14 points apiece for Lafayette, which shot 60.7 percent -- its best mark since 2009.While the Leopards are 5-2 at home, they've been outscored by an average of 15.5 points in going 0-6 on the road -- including a 101-49 rout at the hands of then-No. 3 Kentucky on Nov. 16."We have one of the top teams in America coming up, so there's a lot of work to be done between now and (Saturday's) game," said coach Fran O'Hanlon, whose teams visits Stanford next weekend. "It doesn't get much harder than what we have right now."