Williams answers the bell against Nebraska
JAN 29, 2013 10:28p ET
Minnesota's senior forward had been non-existent in his team's last two losses. He scored just two points on Saturday against Wisconsin and missed what would have been a game-tying free throw with one second left in the game.
Coach Tubby Smith said Monday that Williams' struggles were more mental than physical. After his season-high 23-point effort Tuesday helped Minnesota snap a four-game losing streak with an 84-65 win over visiting Nebraska, it's clear Williams has his head on straight again.
"It was real nice. After losing four in a row, it's real hard to stay positive, just to keep the positive thoughts going through your head," Williams said after the win. "Our coaching staff and our whole team, we were able to stay positive (tonight)."
Just 14 seconds into the game, Williams matched his point total from the Wisconsin game when his dunk put the Gophers on the board. It was a sign of things to come for Williams, as he added two more dunks in the first half — including a putback slam to put Minnesota up 36-25 late in the first half.
At halftime, Williams had 19 of Minnesota's 44 points as he set the tone for the Gophers in the first half.
"I think he probably got tired of everybody talking about how big of a slump he was in," Gophers senior Trevor Mbakwe said of Williams. "We know we all have faith in him. We knew it wasn't going to last long. It didn't surprise us that he came out the way he was, being aggressive. That's what we need him to do."
Smith indicated Monday that he wanted Williams to be more aggressive on the offensive boards. He was Tuesday, attacking the rim on offense like he did earlier in the season when he was one of Minnesota's most consistent players. It was something Williams got away from during the Gophers' four-game skid, when he failed to score more than 11 points or grab more than five rebounds in a game.
The Gophers knew it was Williams' night when he drained a 3-pointer in the first half, his first make from downtown in four games and just his seventh 3-pointer of the season.
"I was glad to see that one go in, because it didn't feel good coming out," Williams said. "When it went in, I was a happy camper."
Williams checked back into the game late in the second half, needing three points to tie his career high. He took a pass from Julian Welch and flushed yet another rim-rattling dunk to give him 23 points for the game, one shy of his career high.
Knowing how close he was to breaking that mark, Williams was eager to get another shot. But it never came, and he was taken out of the game with two minutes remaining one point shy of his career best.
"The guys were giving me crap about it, too. Some of the guys were trying to bet me that I wasn't going to get it," Williams said. "I lost a couple bets down here tonight. I don't really care. As long as we win, I don't really care about a career high. It was just fun to get out there and play my game again."
It was a sigh of relief for Minnesota, which snapped its four-game losing streak that resulted in a slide in both the college basketball polls and the Big Ten standings. The Gophers were ranked No. 8 at one point in the season but have since fallen to No. 23. A fifth straight loss would have been devastating, so Tuesday's blowout victory helped lift that weight off Minnesota's shoulders.
Williams is also carrying a little less weight on his 6-foot-7, 205-pound frame after Tuesday's game, arguably his best of the season.
"It's definitely a big relief for me, personally," he said. "These last four or five games, I wasn't playing my basketball. For me to come out, have the game I did, that's a real big confidence boost for me."
Now the question is whether Williams can sustain this level of play against some of the Big Ten's best teams — something he didn't do during Minnesota's four-game skid, which included losses to two No. 5 teams. When the Gophers face the likes of Michigan State, Ohio State and Indiana later in the Big Ten season, they'll need more games from Williams like the one he had Tuesday against Nebraska.
"He did a hell of a job, but he's capable of doing that all the time," Smith said. "That's what my expectations are of Rodney and always will be."
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