Minnesota hasn’t won a game all season away from its home court, and head coach Richard Pitino is 0-5 at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall. The task of finally pulling off a road win on Wednesday night in Bloomington might be even taller than expected as the Golden Gophers tallest and most impactful frontcourt player is a game time decision.
Averaging 12.6 points and 7.1 rebounds, 7-foot center Liam Robbins has been one of the top post players in the Big Ten this season.
But Robbins is dealing with an ankle injury that slowed him down significantly in Minnesota’s last game at Maryland, and it could cost him the Indiana game altogether.
Robbins only played 18 minutes against the Terrapins on Sunday in part due to foul trouble, and he made just 1 of 8 shots, scored a season-low two points, and grabbed only three rebounds. With their star big man hampered, the Golden Gophers struggled offensively in a 72-59 loss.
“He’s one of the best centers in the league,” Minnesota coach Richard Pitino told reporters on Tuesday. “We’re not better with him not on the court.”
Robbins is the Big Ten’s top shot blocker and the team’s top inside scoring presence. The Golden Gophers do not have any other regular frontcourt players taller than 6-foot-9. Without him, 6-foot-9 center Eric Curry (3.7 ppg, 2.1 rpg), and forwards Brandon Johnson (6-foot-8, 8.7 ppg, 6.4 rpg) and Isaiah Ihnen (6-foot-9, 2.4 ppg, 3.2 rpg) would look to fill the void.
Even if Robbins plays, his impact on the game may be limited. That was the case on Sunday at Maryland.
“[Robbins’] inability to guard ball screens or block shots hurt our team because he was hobbling and trying to fight through it,” Pitino said. “Obviously, whenever you play a guy who is hurt you make sure if you do play it can’t damage it further. It’s a sprained ankle. Just see what the pain tolerance is and how much he can go without hurting the team.”
Robbins has been a force in Minnesota’s biggest wins of the season. The Drake transfer averaged 21 points, nine rebounds and 3½ blocks in four wins against ranked opponents, including Michigan, Ohio State and Iowa.
Like Indiana, Minnesota (13-8, 6-8) is battling for a spot in the NCAA Tournament. The Golden Gophers cannot afford to stack up too many more losses, but they also don’t want to see Robbins make matters worse when it comes to his ankle.
“I know he wants to play,” Pitino said of Robbins. “We’re going to do what’s best for him and what’s best for the team.”
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