Saturday, November 14, 2009

Gopher Cagers Rout Tennessee Tech in Opener

The nationally-ranked Gopher basketball team put aside its off-court difficulties Friday night and overcame a somewhat sluggish start to close strong in an 87-50 victory over Tennessee Tech in the 2009-10 season opener at Williams Arena.

The Gophers used a 9-1 run to close the first half with a 15-point advantage and then proceeded to out-score TTU 50-28 in the final 20 minutes.

Senior Lawrence Westbrook paced the Gophers with 22 points on 9-of-13 shooting, including 4-for-7 beyond the arc. The 22 points were Westbrook's highest total since his 29 in last season's improbable comeback victory over Wisconsin in Madison. Freshman Rodney Williams was the only other Gopher to hit double-figures, and his athleticism was prominently displayed Friday night.

Williams dazzled the Gopher faithful with some spectacular dunks and also picked up two steals and blocked two shots. His enthusiasm and hustle on both ends of the court will endear himself to the partisan crowd all season long if Friday was any indication.

Coach Tubby Smith played his entire squad Friday and freshman Justin Cobbs was the only one not to break into the scoring column. Senior Damian Johnson, junior Paul Carter, and sophomore Ralph Sampson III each had 9 points in a balanced scoring attack.

The Gophers also played solid defense on the other end, holding Tennessee Tech to 28.3% shooting from the floor and forcing a staggering 27 turnovers. The Gopher defense may be the most under-rated aspect of this team, and they certainly displayed quickness and athleticism on the defensive end all night long.

Next up for Minnesota is Stephen F. Austin on Monday night at Williams Arena, as the Gophers look to move to 2-0 on what promises to be a solid season for the maroon and gold, off-court issues aside.

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