Gophers freshman Daniel Oturu was back on the court Wednesday vs. Illinois after missing the last game because of a shoulder injury.
The 6-10 center and former Cretin-Derham Hall standout sat out Sunday’s 92-87 victory against Iowa, but he was cleared after returning to practice. He had 11 points and eight rebounds in 19 minutes in the 86-75 victory over the Illini, going 7-for-10 from the free-throw line.
Oturu was having one of the best seasons for a U freshman center in years, averaging 10.2 points, 7.2 rebounds and a team-high 1.7 blocks in 19 games, including 18 starts.
In a 95-68 loss Jan. 16 at Illinois, Oturu had his best game in Big Ten play with 17 points and eight rebounds in only 19 minutes. He came off the bench for the first time as a backup for Eric Curry in a 59-57 loss last week at No. 5 Michigan.
Curry replaced Oturu as the starting center even before the injury, but not because Oturu did anything wrong. It was more about going with a stronger and more experienced player. Curry started his third consecutive game Wednesday.
“I think he’s pretty good scoring the basketball,” Gophers coach Richard Pitino said about Oturu. “I think he’s pretty good rebounding the basketball. From a talent standpoint, he’s got that, but it’s just the little things like ball-screen defense, blocking out and defending without fouling. He’s going to get better at it.”
The Gophers struggled last season without much depth at center when Reggie Lynch was lost after a suspension. But Pitino has been able to go three-deep at the position this season with Curry, Oturu and 7-foot senior Matz Stockman, who had six points off the bench against Iowa.
Pitino and Gophers players hoped their fans would be safe but would fight through the extreme cold to attend the Illinois game.
Temperatures with windchill were 50 degrees below zero, the coldest Twin Cities day since January 1996.
“Everybody needs to be safe,” Pitino said before the game. “But if you do come, bring a little bit extra.”
When the University of Minnesota announced Tuesday and Wednesday classes were canceled because of the cold, the basketball game was not. Fans filled the lower bowl of Williams Arena, and the Gophers announced attendance of 9,565.
On Sunday night, the Gophers beat rival Iowa in front of an announced crowd of 11,582, the largest of the season at home.