Minnesota coach Tubby Smith said he doesn’t expect to have one of his top defenders, starting point guard Al Nolen, in the lineup for at least the next couple of weeks. Judging by their first game without him, it might be a rough couple of weeks for the Golden Gophers.
With Nolen likely out again, No. 15 Minnesota will try to bounce back from its first loss of the season Saturday night against visiting Cornell.
Smith announced last Saturday that Nolen had an injured foot, one day before his team ascended to its highest ranking in his three-plus seasons.
“It is really tough,” senior guard Blake Hoffarber said. “(Nolen) is one of the best defenders in the country. Hopefully, he can get back soon. Anytime you’re missing your point guard, it’s going to be tough on the team.”
Without Nolen, the Gophers (6-1) were outscored 58-40 in the second half Monday, and gave up a season high for points in an 87-79 home loss to Virginia. Smith called his team’s effort “pathetic.”
“It was probably one of our worst defensive games in a while,” said Hoffarber, who scored a team-best 19 points. “Hopefully this will be a wakeup call for us.”
Starting forward Rodney Williams was also limited to a season-low seven minutes because of a sprained ankle, and his status is unknown for Saturday. The Gophers, though, should have one of their top reserves, Devoe Joseph, on the floor for the second time since serving a six-game suspension for a violation of team rules.
The junior guard scored 16 points in his season debut after averaging 9.4 as a sophomore. He’ll next try to help hand Cornell its first five-game losing streak since the end of the 2003-04 campaign.
The Big Red (2-5) will also try to avoid their second loss to a Top 25 opponent in as many games. They fell 78-58 at No. 8 Syracuse on Tuesday.
While compiling a school and Ivy League record 29 victories last season, Cornell won two of five matchups against ranked teams, and lost by only five at then-top ranked Kansas.
The Big Red, who also advanced to the NCAA tournament regional semifinals, returned just one starter from that team, junior guard Chris Wroblewski.
Wroblewski is averaging a team-best 13.8 points despite not having fully recovered from a sprained ankle. He also missed the first two games after suffering a broken nose in a preseason practice.
Wroblewski scored nine points during a 71-54 loss at Minnesota on Dec. 6, 2008. The Big Red led by as much as 13 in that game but were outscored 43-14 in the second half.
Ralph Sampson III was one of three Gophers players in double figures with 10 points and had a team-best six rebounds.
Minnesota has a 5-0 lead in the series, but one of those wins during the 1976-77 season was later forfeited due to the Gophers’ use of an ineligible player.