Mbakwe fine with coming off bench for Minnesota

Tubby Smith hasn’t made a decision on whether Trevor Mbakwe will

start for the first time since he was arrested, and it doesn’t

appear to matter to 15th-ranked Minnesota’s star player.

Mbakwe said Friday after practice that he told Smith he is

comfortable coming off the bench if need be.

”I told coach that anything I need to do to help this team I’m

fine with,” Mbakwe said. ”If I continue to come off the bench, I

don’t think it will change my game at all.”

It hasn’t really changed it in the last two games. Mbakwe was

arrested on Jan. 11 after he sent an ex-girlfriend a message on

Facebook. The woman had previously gotten a restraining order

against Mbakwe, and she turned him in to police after seeing the

message.

Mbakwe admitted to sending the message, but pleaded not guilty

to the charge of violating the restraining order during a court

appearance on Thursday. His next appearance is scheduled for Feb.

7.

Smith and athletic director Joel Maturi decided against

suspending Mbakwe, but Smith did take him out of the starting

lineup as punishment.

Still, Mbakwe has played 66 minutes in the last two games, so

his actual playing time has not been cut. He had seven points and

10 rebounds in a victory over then-No. 8 Purdue, then had 16 points

and 12 boards in a win over Iowa. He leads the Big Ten in

rebounding with 10.4 per game.

”If I’m a starter or coming off the bench, I have to come with

energy and bring that toughness to the game,” Mbakwe said.

”Regardless of if I’m starting or coming off the bench, I think

it’s all the same.”

Smith said Friday he is still deciding if he will stay with

Colton Iverson in the starting lineup at Michigan on Saturday.

”I don’t know. We may change, we may not,” Smith said. ”I’m

not sure right now what we’ll do, to be honest with you.”

Even though he’s 7-feet tall, Iverson isn’t nearly the athletic,

intimidating presence in the middle that Mbakwe is, and Smith could

choose to go back to him in the starting lineup in hopes of setting

the tone early in what has been a difficult place to play for

Minnesota.

The Gophers (14-4, 3-3 Big Ten) definitely could use a road

victory as they try to work they try to keep pace in the

conference. They are currently in sixth place, a game behind

Wisconsin, Illinois and Michigan State.

The Wolverines (11-8, 1-5) have lost five straight games,

including convincing defeats to Indiana and Northwestern in the

last week. But they’ve lost close games to Top 25 powers Syracuse,

Ohio State and Kansas and have given the Gophers fits at Crisler

Arena in recent seasons, including an 83-55 embarrassment of

Minnesota last season.

”We know they’ll be ready for us,” Smith said. ”It’ll be a

tough place to play.”