MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Rodney Williams had 12 points — including two dunks — plus nine rebounds and four steals to give Minnesota some energy for a 55-40 victory over struggling Southern California on Saturday.
Julian Welch scored 16 points with six assists, and Williams scored in double digits for the second straight game after moving from the perimeter into standout Trevor Mbakwe’s power forward spot. Austin Hollins added 11 points on three 3-pointers, and the Gophers (8-1) used a 12-1 run to close the first half and cruise through the final 20 minutes.
Maurice Jones had 14 points, three assists and two steals for the Trojans (4-5), who have missed the 60-point mark in five of their nine games.
Sophomore center Dewayne Dedmon, who suffered a stress injury to his right foot, returned ahead of schedule but was a nonfactor against Gophers freshman Elliott Eliason.
Eliason, who started for the second straight game for injured senior Ralph Sampson III, had four points and nine rebounds before fouling out. Minnesota had a 34-24 advantage on the boards over USC.
The Gophers were 9 for 9 at the free-throw line, all in the first half, and the Trojans made just 5 of their 11 foul shots. They’ve been outscored at the free-throw line by 27 points over their nine games.
Though the Gophers have yet to face a ranked team and the Big Ten season will be a different story, they’ve so far coped just fine without their star Mbakwe, whose senior year ended early when he tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee in last weekend’s loss to Dayton.
When senior point guard Al Nolen was hurt and lost for the season last January, Williams moved to shooting guard for Blake Hoffarber, who moved over to the point. Neither of those moves worked. But this time, the lanky high-flying junior Williams might be more comfortable in his new place.
He picked up a loose ball in a scramble near midcourt and, with no defender to worry about, threw down a 360-degree dunk that brought the crowd to life and gave the Gophers a 24-15 lead. He caught a slick pass across the lane from Welch for another slam in the second half that stretched the lead to 41-23, the biggest of the game for Minnesota.
Coach Kevin O’Neill was left with only one starter, Jones, from last season’s NCAA tournament team that finished 19-15, when senior guard Jio Fontan tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee and had season-ending surgery in September. Leading scorer Nikola Vucevic left early for the NBA draft.
The return of Dedmon, the junior-college transfer with an eagle-like wingspan, was certainly a boost for USC, but the 7-footer looked out of sorts and was probably still playing with some pain. He was in a walking boot and using crutches after missing Wednesday’s game at UC Riverside, the team said he could miss four to six weeks.
Dedmon didn’t score Saturday until a dunk midway through the second half, his only points. He was 1 for 5 from the field with four points and two rebounds..
Minnesota’s 1972 Big Ten championship team was honored at halftime. Hall of Fame baseball player Dave Winfield, who grew up a few miles from campus in St. Paul, was one of the standouts on the squad along with Jim Brewer, Corky Taylor and Clyde Turner. Coach Bill Musselman’s son, Max, represented his late father at the ceremony.
(© Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)