Tubby leaning heavy on starters in Big Ten play


Tubby leaning heavy on starters in Big Ten play

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) Tubby Smith drew some criticism in his first five seasons in Minnesota for a substitution pattern that often looked more like a hockey philosophy.

He would run groups of five players in and out, playing his starters almost the same amount of minutes as his bench players.

Now that he has a talented, versatile starting group that believes it can play with any team in the nation, Smith is taking an entirely different approach. He's riding his most talented players hard this season, a strategy that has taken Minnesota to the No. 9 ranking and a highly anticipated game against No. 5 Michigan on Thursday night.

In the first four Big Ten games, guard Julian Welch is the only reserve playing more than 10 minutes a game. Three starters are averaging at least 30 minutes, with point guard Andre Hollins' 28.5 the lowest number.

``As you get into conference play, there's going to be tighter games and better athletes,'' Smith said Wednesday. ``So you want your better athletes in the game at the same time. I don't have somebody measuring. This isn't Little League where everyone is going to play so many minutes.''

Gophers starters have accounted for 87 percent of the team's scoring, with Hollins leading the way at 19 points per game in the conference. The biggest producer off the bench has been Oto Osenieks at just 2.5 points per game.

So far, the imbalance hasn't been much of an issue. The Gophers won at Illinois last week even though they didn't get a single point from their reserves. But in the rugged Big Ten, where foul trouble and injuries await with every collision under the basket, Minnesota's depth is sure to get a test sooner or later.

``I think we can hold it up,'' senior starter Rodney Williams said. ``And then when he's ready to go to the bench, we know we've got guys that are ready to come off the bench as well.''

Where the Gophers appear to be most thin is the front court. Williams and Trevor Mbakwe are getting all the minutes, while big man Maurice Walker has been slow to come back from a knee injury and center Elliott Eliason has been inconsistent behind them. In such a physical conference, it will be key for Mbakwe, who at 6-foot-8 is an undersized starting center, to stay out of foul trouble.

Backup point guard Maverick Ahanmisi hit a couple of 3-pointers against Indiana, an encouraging sign for a second unit that has been lacking offensive punch to this point. He said going against the Gophers' talented starters in practice should have them ready once the games begin. They're trying to pattern themselves after the Los Angeles Clippers' reserves, widely considered the best bench in the NBA.

``We're playing against the first group all the time, so we're going to push them because that's going to make them better. That's going to help us out, too,'' Ahanmisi said. ``The other day, coach said we play like the Clippers. So I think that was a big part of what we do as a second group, coming in and pressuring the ball and things like that, also in practice helping the starting five bring their intensity as well.''

The Wolverines have used their athleticism and playmaking on the perimeter to get off to a 16-1 start, winning their first three Big Ten games before falling to rival Ohio State last weekend. The game will feature two of the best players in the conference in Hollins and Wolverines point guard Trey Burke in what is expected to be a rowdy Williams Arena. Burke scored 30 points to beat the Gophers in the Big Ten tournament last season and Hollins is ready for a rematch.

``I look forward to going against great players,'' Hollins said. ``I don't get too caught up in it, but at the same time it's like I have something to prove at the same time. It's going to make me better in the long run so I just take the challenge to go out and compete.''

Hollins knows he's going to need plenty of help if the Gophers are going to bounce back from a loss at Indiana. And it may have to come from the backups.

``We know our bench is important,'' Hollins said. ``Everybody's going to be expected to play 100 percent. Coach Smith has 100 percent trust in our bench and I do also. We trust in each other.''


AP Sports Writer Dave Campbell contributed to this story.

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5 must-see moments from Wizards' important win over Pacers, including Kelly Oubre's big dunk

5 must-see moments from Wizards' important win over Pacers, including Kelly Oubre's big dunk

Here are five plays or moments from the Wizards' 109-102 win over the Pacers on Saturday night that are worth revisiting... 

1. The Wizards took care of business against the Pacers on Saturday night and in doing so earned an important advantage in the playoff race. They won the season series and therefore own a tiebreaker for playoff seeding and currently that would mean home court advantage in the first round if the playoffs began today.

The Wizards took control early and part of that effort were five first-half assists by Bradley Beal. He ended up with 19 points, but some of his best plays were passes.

On this one, he executed a perfect pick-and-roll with Marcin Gortat:


2. This was another pretty pass to Gortat. Tomas Satoransky, who had 12 points and eight assists, fed Gortat with a nice reach-around pass on a play that featured some impressive ball movement overall:

3. This was a great moment. The Wizards had a member of the military surprise his niece on the court. She literally did not see it coming:


4. These last two plays are dunks by Kelly Oubre, Jr., who finished with 16 points. On this play, he cut through the and threw down with authority:

5. This dunk was set up by a beautiful pass from Ramon Sessions. It traveled about three-quarters of the court and Oubre did the rest:

The Wizards now have three days off before their next game as they sit fourth in the Eastern Conference. Things are trending positive for the Wizards as the playoff race heats up.

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Wizards take out Pacers to earn important advantage in playoff seeding

Wizards take out Pacers to earn important advantage in playoff seeding

The Washington Wizards beat the Indiana Pacers 109-102 on Saturday night. Here's analysis of what went down...

Important victory: Saturday night's game between the Wizards and Pacers had several layers of playoff implications on the line and it was Washington who rose to the occasion and showed the urgency commensurate for the stakes.

By beating the Pacers, the Wizards locked up the season series between the teams, two games to one. That gives them the tiebreaker for playoff seeding if the teams finish the regular season with the same record. That could very well prove paramount. As of now, the Wizards and Pacers have the same record (40-30) with 12 games to go.

The season series advantage means the Wizards are above the Pacers in the standings despite having the same record. They moved into fourth place in the East with the win and the Cavs slotted back into third. There will likely be a lot more movement as these next few weeks play out, but the Wizards now hold an important edge over the Pacers.

The win also pushed the Wizards to 14-8 since John Wall went down with a left knee injury. Wall could return this coming week or the week after and the Wizards have more than stayed afloat during his absence.

The Wizards' magic number to make the playoffs is now just five. 


Sato went off: The Wizards jumped out to a double-digit lead in the first quarter mostly thanks to a hot start from Tomas Satoransky, who scored the Wizards' first five points and had 10 by the end of the first quarter.

Satoransky's floater was automatic. He dropped in several in the lane from all different angles. Satoransky was practicing the same shots, floaters off each foot, the day before in practice and it paid off.

It was a well-rounded night for Satoransky. In addition to his 12 points, he also had eight assists and five rebounds, including this one to find Marcin Gortat for the dunk:

Gortat came up big: Speaking of Gortat, the Wizards' big man had one of his best games of the season. He poured in 18 points to go along with eight rebounds, four assists a steal and a block. Gortat shot 6-for-8, consistently having his way on the block.

The Pacers were without two of their best big men in Myles Turner and Domantas Sabonis and Gortat took advantage of that. He was way too much for Al Jefferson.

The Pacers tried to roll with small-ball lineups using Trevor Booker and Thaddeus Young as their big men, but it didn't work. Gortat was too big for them and his teammates did a great job finding him for open looks.

Gortat's 18 points were his most since Jan. 3 when he had a season-high 21 against the Knicks. Lately, Gortat has seen his minutes dwindle with the increased role for Ian Mahinmi, so Saturday night must have felt good for the Polish Machine.


Bojan held in check: Bojan Bogdanovic, who spent part of last season with the Wizards, was a major factor in the first two matchups between Washington and the Pacers this season. He had 20 points in one game and 29 in another, each time getting hot from three.

The Wizards, though, made some adjustments in this one and held Bo Buckets in check. He didn't make his first shot until nearly the midway point of the second quarter and it was only because Kelly Oubre, Jr. (16 points, 18 minutes) lost his balance. Oubre stumbled backward, giving Bogdanovic a split second to get off an open three. That was the only shot he hit in the first half as he began the game 1-for-4.

Oubre did a good job harrassing Bogdanovic and not giving him space on the premiter. Otto Porter (eight points) and Bradley Beal (19 points) did as well. Both Porter and Beal stripped the ball out of Bogdanovic's hands early in the third quarter. Midway through the third, Bogdanovic got past Porter only to be called for an offensive foul on a collision with Gortat. All in all, it was a frustrating night for Bogdanovic, who had 11 points, three below his season average.

Bogdanovic is a very good shooter and when he's hot can alter games. But when you take his shots away, there's not much else he can do to hurt you. The Wizards did a good job taking away his strengths and making others beat them. Not having to focus on Turner and Sabonis certainly helped. 

Sessions is still in the rotation: It turns out those five games for Ramon Sessions over the course of his second 10-day contract weren't just an audition. Now that he has been signed for the rest of the season, Sessions is still getting the nod over Tim Frazier as the backup point guard.

Sessions logged 18 minutes and even played alongside Satoransky and Jodie Meeks in the fourth quarter. The Wizards had a sizable lead and head coach Scott Brooks decided to experiment with his lineups. That is something to keep in mind for when Wall comes back. Once he does, Sessions will be the third point guard and likely rarely see the court. But if they see something they like about him at shooting guard, that could open the door for more playing time possibilities.

Up next: The Wizards have three off-days before their next game. That will be on Wednesday when they head to San Antonio to face the Spurs. Tipoff is at 9:30 p.m. on NBC Sports Washington. Pregame coverage begins at 8:30 p.m. with Wizards HangTime.

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