COLLEGE BASKETBALL: Gophers' Mbakwe out with right knee injury

ORLANDO, Fla. -- There are several Big Ten teams this season led by a dominant player. Ohio State has Jared Sullinger. Wisconsin has Jordan Taylor. Michigan State has Draymond Green. Purdue has Robbie Hummel. Northwestern has John Shurna.

ORLANDO, Fla. -- There are several Big Ten teams this season led by a dominant player. Ohio State has Jared Sullinger. Wisconsin has Jordan Taylor. Michigan State has Draymond Green. Purdue has Robbie Hummel. Northwestern has John Shurna.

Those teams probably could survive losing their best player more than the University of Minnesota can minus Trevor Mbakwe.

Evidence of that was the way the Gophers (6-1) crumbled after losing Mbakwe to a right knee injury in the second half of Sunday's 86-70 loss to Dayton in the Old Spice Classic championship game at the Wide World of Sports complex.

While his teammates were being run off the court, Mbakwe left the floor on crutches after returning briefly. Not knowing if his season was over, the 6-foot-8 All-Big Ten senior forward tweeted from the locker room: "Lord please get me through this."

Gophers coach Tubby Smith said "it didn't look good" for Mbakwe after the game, but he didn't give an update. Mbakwe is expected to undergo a magnetic resonance imaging exam today.


Mbakwe, who was named to the all-tournament team, finished with nine points, four rebounds and four turnovers in 21 minutes.

Smith said he avoided mentioning Mbakwe's injury to the team. The St. Paul native fell to the floor going after a rebound with 17 minutes left in the second half and the Gophers trailing by eight.

"You try not to talk about it," Smith said. "Trevor's a tough guy, but when he's down there writhing in pain, you know it's

serious. So yeah, it does take a toll on your guys. But Dayton was kicking our butt while he was in the game."

If Mbakwe is out for the season, or even for an extended period, Minnesota's chances of returning to the NCAA tournament after a poor finish last season likely would be slim, especially since Smith's team lacked frontcourt depth even with Mbakwe in the lineup.

The Gophers already had injury issues. Senior center Ralph Sampson III was limited during the entire tournament after spraining his ankle last week. Sampson started Sunday but finished with no points, two rebounds and no blocks in 10 minutes. Junior forward Rodney Williams, who had a career-best 18 points in a victory against DePaul on Thursday, had just four points and one rebound in 27 minutes.

"We have to get more out of Rodney," Smith said. "That's two games in a row he's gotten one rebound. We've got to get him on the boards. He's 6-7 and an outstanding leaper."

Smith said junior Andre Ingram probably will replace Mbakwe in the starting lineup against Virginia Tech in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge game Wednesday at Williams Arena. But there's no way to replace Mbakwe's team-leading averages of 14 points, 10 rebounds and two blocks a game. Ingram, a 6-7, 215-pound junior college transfer, was averaging two points and one rebound in eight minutes a game entering Sunday.


The Gophers were loaded in the frontcourt last season with Mbakwe, Sampson, Colton Iverson, Mo Walker and Elliott Eliason. Iverson, a 6-11 center, transferred to Colorado State. Walker suffered a knee injury last season and is not expected to be ready to play anytime soon. The 6-10, 289-pound Walker was a candidate to start at center, but Smith said earlier it might be better if the sophomore takes a medical redshirt this season.

"There's no telling how far Mo is away because he hasn't done anything from a basketball standpoint since December," Smith said, "And he's not even running right now."

Smith said he had "a lot of confidence" in Eliason. The 7-foot redshirt freshman from Nebraska was averaging three points and three rebounds a game but has struggled finishing and defending quicker and more athletic post players.

Mbakwe thanked people for their support after the game on Twitter while also posting: "Minor setback for a MAJOR comeback."

It wouldn't be the first time Mbakwe suffered a knee injury and returned. He played 11 games with Marquette as a freshman in 2007-08 after having surgery to repair an isolated fibular collateral ligament sprain in his left knee.

"Thank God it wasn't that same knee," Smith said. "Knowing Trevor, he'll do whatever he has to do to recover and get back to playing basketball."

Distributed by MCT Information Services

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