Gophers lose key senior Springs before NCAA Tournament
WASHINGTON — Minnesota will go into the NCAA Tournament without starting guard Akeem Springs, who tore the Achilles tendon in his right ankle.
Springs was injured late in the Gophers’ Big Ten Tournament quarterfinal victory over Michigan State on Friday. Without Springs, Minnesota lost to Michigan on Saturday as replacement Dupree McBrayer and point guard Nate Mason were forced to play all 40 minutes and only two points came from the bench.
“We’re a totally different team now with Akeem out,” coach Richard Pitino said. “Totally different team. I’m extremely disappointed with Akeem that he has to go through that.”
Springs had started since the 20th game of the season and was averaging 9.5 points in 24 minutes. The graduate student who is considered the emotional and intellectual leader of the team was on crutches the past two days, and Pitino talked about players rallying around him.
Overcoming the loss of Springs is a major challenge for Minnesota, which is vastly improved after going 8-23 last season. The 84-77 loss to Michigan showed the Gophers’ lack of depth without Springs.
“We’re going to have to start teaching some guys some different positions,” Pitino said. “Some time off will help. We’ll be able to acclimate some other guys, be able to go to the bench a little bit more.”
McBrayer, a sophomore who started the first 19 games this year, said the lesson of Springs’ injury is to “be prepared for anything.” Pitino called it a big blow, and players know that’s the case on and off the court.
“He’s one of the best teammates and all-around hard workers on the team,” center Reggie Lynch said. “We’ll play for him and we’ll make this season for Akeem.