Gophers get starting point guard Hawkins back vs. Badgers

Gophers starting point guard Elijah Hawkins will be available to play Tuesday night against Wisconsin after missing the previous game with an ankle injury.

The 5-11 junior injured his right ankle in a Jan. 15 home loss against Iowa, but he seemed to be closer to returning to play, Gophers coach Ben Johnson said earlier Tuesday.

Hawkins, who leads NCAA Division I with 7.8 assists per game, missed last Friday's 76-66 loss at Michigan State and rested his ankle in a walking boot on the bench. He participated in practice leading up to the border battle game against the Badgers.

"It's obviously progressively gotten better and better," Johnson said. "I think he feels good about where he's at. We want to make sure when guys are out there, especially when there's a guy who has got speed, that he's able to use that. And we're not putting him or us at a disadvantage."

Sophomore big man Pharrel Payne was listed with Hawkins as questionable to play Tuesday, but he was dressed to play as well. Despite dealing with back spasms, the 6-9 Cottage Grove native played through pain to finish with seven points and 10 rebounds last week against the Spartans.

The Gophers committed a season-high 19 turnovers without Hawkins in last Thursday's loss at Michigan State. But Mike Mitchell Jr. had 14 points, five assists and three turnovers replacing Hawkins at point guard. The frontcourt of Dawson Garcia, Joshua Ola-Joseph and Payne combined for 11 turnovers. Getting Payne healthy has been a priority for the Gophers, who are a different team defensively with his rim protection.

"You want your body to feel good and be able to go out there and perform with confidence," Johnson said. "He affects the game in so many ways. We need a healthy Pharrel out there."