The Minnesota Gophers men’s basketball team will be fortunate to get its top shooting guard back from a broken finger at all this season, and the team’s starting center isn’t practicing so that he can rest a severely sprained ankle. And up next is the nation’s fifth-ranked team and its imposing 7-foot center.
Welp, good luck with all that.
After a visit with a hand specialist, junior captain Gabe Kalscheur planned to have surgery Friday on a broken bone on his right shooting hand. He is expected to be sidelined for 3-4 weeks, coach Richard Pitino shared Friday, a timeline that runs into the Big Ten and NCAA tournaments in mid-March.
Meanwhile, Liam Robbins’ balky right ankle has kept him out of practices for a week in order that he can “hopefully” keep playing through the injury in the game against powerful Illinois and center Kofi Cockburn at 2:30 p.m. Saturday at Williams Arena.
“I don’t want to offend people and act like I’m making excuses, but that’s a tough blow,” Pitino said. “Kofi Cockburn, even if you are healthy, he’s a challenge. He’s hurt a lot of people in this league. They’ve got veterans. They’ve got talent. That’s why they’ve had a great year.”
Kalshcheur and Robbins are the Gophers' two best defenders on an otherwise underwhelming defensive team. Minnesota is allowing 72.6 points per game, which ranks 219th in the nation. The Illini, with Cockburn and star guard Ayo Dosunmu, is 21st in the country with an average of 81.2 points per game.
The Illini (15-5, 11-3) have won four straight on the road, but Minnesota (13-9, 6-9) can set a program record with a sixth victory over a ranked opponent in a season.
“Not going to be easy by any means, but it’s a great opportunity in front of us,” Pitino said.
Robbins hasn’t been himself playing through losses to Maryland and Indiana over the past week. He was a combined 2 for 10 shooting for seven points in those two games.
The Gophers are expected to have a week between the Illinois game and the Northwestern game next Saturday. That could be an opportune time for Robbins to rest, if the postponed Nebraska game doesn’t pop back onto the schedule between those games.
“That would be valuable time for Liam,” Pitino said. “He’s not really practicing. He is really gutting it out right now, but a week off would really help him.”
Robbins has been in the starting lineup, but Kalscheur’s absence provided an opportunity for Jamal Mashburn Jr. to make his first collegiate start against the Hoosiers. The 6-foot guard had a career-high 19 points at Assembly Hall.
“He’s definitely trending in a really good direction,” Pitino said.
Mashburn will be able to play in front of his famous father for the first time Saturday at The Barn. Junior has called Senior his best friend, trainer, mentor and “my biggest fan and my biggest critic.”
“I’m very excited,” Mashburn Jr. said Friday. “I haven’t seen him since August. I’m excited to see him and my stepmom. I’m excited to see both of them. I haven’t seen them since I moved up here, so this is an important game to get a win and just see my family.”