Hurting Gophers in a hole NCAA TOURNAMENT GAME 2: MINNESOTA VS. SAINT LOUIS, 3 P.M.

March 16, 1995|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,Sun Staff Writer

In a season of diminishing returns, Voshon Lenard has come to symbolize Minnesota's reeling Golden Gophers.

He and the Gophers limp into the Baltimore Arena this afternoon to play in the opening round of the NCAA East Regional.

It is no coincidence that since the flashy senior guard took a nasty header off the elevated court at Williams Arena in Minneapolis a week ago, Minnesota's season has taken a distinct downward turn.

The Gophers lost the last two games with Lenard gimpy. Worse yet, they lost four of their last six games and five of eight. That gives today's matchup against Saint Louis the appearance of an upset waiting to happen.

At the end of a run that produced four straight postseason berths, including two straight in the NCAA, the Gophers have a critical list of walking wounded:

* David Grim, effective early in the season, either has not scored or did not play in six of the past seven games since muscle separated from bone in his shoulder.

* Forward Jayson Walton, the team's best rebounder, has played with a partial tear in his left knee, an injury compounded by a degenerative arthritic condition in both knees. He already had arthroscopic knee surgery last year.

* Point guard Townsend Orr injured a bone in the bottom of his right foot that has reduced his speed.

* Backup center Trevor Winter tore a muscle in his left elbow.

Then, last week in a 72-59 loss at home to Purdue, Lenard joined the line. Scrapping with Purdue's Brad Miller for a loose ball, he went flying over the press table and took a three-foot drop to the arena floor. Momentarily knocked unconscious, he later returned the game, still woozy and largely ineffective. He had nine points at the time of the fall. He finished with 17. Missing, though, was his accurate jump shot.

Two days later, Lenard scored a season-low two points in 31 minutes in a 69-60 loss at Penn State that kept these Gophers from becoming the first Minnesota team to post three consecutive 20-win seasons.

Lenard, who has started 125 of his 126 career games for Minnesota, will play today. But how well will determine whether Minnesota gets a second-round shot at Wake Forest.

Aside from the ankle, Lenard also bruised his shoulder and hip in the mishap. He has spent a lot of time lately with team trainer Roger Schipper.

"Roger has always done a good job at getting me ready for games," Lenard told the St. Paul Pioneer Press before leaving for Baltimore. "I'm confident that he and the ice bag will get me going. It hurts. It's been hurting. But when the excitement gets going, I hope to be ready."

It had hardly been the easiest of seasons, anyway, for Lenard, who was a teammate of Jalen Rose's at Southwestern High School in Detroit.

Lenard opted for the NBA draft after his junior season, but wound up going on the 46th pick to the Milwaukee Bucks. He then decided against going pro and returned to Minnesota.

Lenard's scoring dropped this season, from 18.9 to 17.3, and his shooting percentage dropped, from .472 to .412. In addition to the two-point game against Penn State, he was held to five in a loss to Iowa and three in a loss to Texas Southern.

Nevertheless, he became Minnesota's all-time scorer when he eclipsed Mychal Thompson on Feb. 22. He later became the first Gopher to pass 2,000 points. At 2,085, he stands 17th on the Big Ten's all-time scoring list.

FIVE-POINTERS

Best Game: Beat Michigan State, 66-57, at home on Feb. 18. Lenard scored 17 points, and Michigan State shot 38.3 percent.

Worst game: Lost to Texas Southern, 71-50, at home on Dec. 21. The Gophers shot 28.4 percent and Lenard scored only three.

Style of play: A senior dominated team, the Gophers are led by their backcourt of Orr and Lenard. They are tough on defense, holding opponents to 41 percent shooting, and can muscle on the boards.

Key stat: The Gophers are 16-3 when they hold the opponent to 70 points or less.

Miscellaneous: Five senior -- Lenard, Walton, orr, Kolander, Wolf --have rolled up a record of 82-49 and earned four postseason berths (two NCAA, two NIT). They need one more win to become the first team in Minnesota history to post three consecutive 20-win seasons.

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