Originally posted on Fox Sports North  |  Last updated 12/3/11
MINNEAPOLIS Minnesota forward Rodney Williams may have had the highlight of the game Saturday with his 360 dunk in the first half against USC, but it was the steady play of point guard Julian Welch that solidified the win. Welch, a junior college transfer from Yuba (Calif.) Community College, had a team-high 16 points along with six assists and two steals as coach Tubby Smiths Gophers beat the Trojans 55-40.Welch entered the season as a bit of an unknown for the Gophers, who were in need of a starting point guard. But Minnesota originally went with freshman Andre Hollins at the point, with Welch coming off the bench.After forward Trevor Mbakwe suffered a season-ending knee injury, Minnesota was forced to go to a smaller starting lineup. For Welch, that meant his first start as a Gopher on Wednesday against Virginia Tech. He again got the nod Saturday versus the Trojans, and provided a veteran presence at the point."As other teams see his confidence grow and see that hes pretty much doing what he wants to do, theyre going to commit to him," Williams said of Welch. "When they do that, other people are open."On Saturday, that included Williams. Welch found the Gophers junior forward in the paint several times, including an assist that led to a thunderous second-half dunk for Williams. Welch showed a poise that the Gophers knew about before the regular-season started, even if fans didnt. Welch played his freshman year at UC Davis, so he has experience at the Division I level. But his confidence seems to grow as he continues to get more minutes."It doesnt surprise me. Weve seen him do it in the open gym and during the preseason, before the season started," Williams said. "I just thought it would be a matter of time for him to get comfortable with the coachs system and hell be doing that all the time."Welch played 34 minutes on Saturday, tied for the team lead with Williams. If his strong play continues, an increase in playing time should become a trend."Just knowing that Ill be able to play more minutes, it just lets me know that I can actually play my game and not have to worry about coming out if I make a mistake or something like that," Welch said. "It helps a lot."The first half wasnt exactly smooth sailing for Welch, however. The junior committed three of the Gophers 12 turnovers in the half. One of those three was a traveling violation when Welch stopped under the basket after what looked to be an open layup off a steal. But after his three-turnover half, Welch protected the ball after halftime and didnt commit a turnover after the break."Coach Smith at halftime talked to the guards. We were pretty careless in the first half," Welch said. "I just took it upon myself to be smarter with the ball."As a team, the Gophers had just six turnovers in the second half while forcing USC into seven giveaways. Still, the 18 total turnovers for Minnesota on Saturday was double what they had Wednesday against Virginia Tech."We took out a ruler and swatted their hand," Smith joked about the halftime adjustments. "I thought coming off the game against Virginia Tech were we took care of the ball so well was really disappointing. Southern Cal does a good job of making you play around the perimeter. We kept trying to drive it to the basket out of control, not jump-stopping, not playing smart basketball. Thats basically what we just talked about."The pep talk worked, thanks in part to Welchs steady hand. The junior guard helped the Gophers improve to 2-0 since losing Mbakwe theyve also been without center Ralph Sampson III, who was again sidelined with an ankle injury. Minnesota is now 8-1 on the season as it prepares to host Appalachian State on Tuesday."It means a lot, just to know that without Trev and Ralph that we can still compete and get after it," Welch said. "Were going to be a real good team once Ralph gets back."Williams agrees and his 12-point, nine-rebound effort Saturday was a nice compliment to Welchs game and a key for Minnesotas win without its two senior leaders."I think these two wins without those two guys is really a confidence booster," he said. "Any time two of your veteran players go down, you might start to worry. Weve got a group of young guys that are ready to focus and come in and get the job done."
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