Minnesota-Michigan St. Preview
By NICOLINO DIBENEDETTO
(AP) -- Injuries are a concern for Michigan State, but having Gary Harris available may quell some worries.
Even a healthy lineup, however, couldn't beat Minnesota in this season's Big Ten opener.
The No. 12 Spartans hope Harris is healthy enough to play Wednesday night when they try to continue their home dominance of the 18th-ranked Golden Gophers.
Michigan State (18-4, 7-2) seems likely to be without reserve guard Travis Trice unless he can pass a concussion test, but Harris (back spasms) probably will play.
Both were injured in Thursday's 80-75 win over Illinois, and coach Tom Izzo would like to have at least one of the guards on the court.
"If those two guys couldn't play, we are down to the nitty gritty," Izzo said.
While Harris' back seems likely to comply, Trice is expected to be out and that may mean an increased role for Denzel Valentine. The freshman guard connected on all four of his field goals en route to a season-high 14 points Thursday.
"I'm expecting big things out of him," Izzo said. "He's not a freshman anymore. One way or another, we're going to need him."
Valentine, whose father - Carlton - played for Michigan State when Izzo was an assistant, is starting to earn the trust of the coach by reducing the number of turnovers. He's totaled six in the past six games after averaging 3.1 over the previous seven.
"What's the main difference in games?" Izzo asked. "It's turnovers. It doesn't matter what sport."
Harris is the Spartans' biggest threat on the perimeter, hitting 41.1 percent from 3-point range while ranking second on the team with 12.8 points per game. Before getting hurt against the Illini, the freshman scored 14 points and was 3 of 5 from long range. That came four days after he fell a point shy of his season high, scoring 21 in a 75-70 loss to then-No. 7 Indiana.
Harris went 1 for 5 from beyond the arc and finished with 12 points in a 76-63 loss to then-ninth-ranked Minnesota (17-5, 5-4) on Dec. 31.
Michigan State, though, has won all 13 home games this season and has won 13 in a row there against the Golden Gophers since a 68-43 loss on Jan. 4, 1997.
Keith Appling, the Spartans' leader with 14.0 points per game, had 15 with six steals in the latest meeting with Minnesota. The junior guard enters this matchup coming off Thursday's 24-point effort after scoring a season-low three against the Hoosiers.
Minnesota has lost three straight away from home after opening its conference road schedule with an 84-67 victory over then-No. 12 Illinois on Jan. 9.
Two straight home games against two of the Big Ten's weaker teams gave the Golden Gophers a chance to rebound from a four-game skid and they responded with wins over Nebraska and Iowa. Minnesota limited the Hawkeyes to 36.2 percent shooting in a 62-59 victory Sunday.
"Our guys showed a lot of heart, a lot of toughness and a lot of character," coach Tubby Smith said. "I hope we haven't peaked. We have a lot more to learn, a lot to improve on."
Austin Hollins put the Gophers up for good Sunday, hitting a 3 with 11.6 seconds left to finish with 17 points. He's averaging 13.5 points at home compared to only 8.0 on 30.4 percent shooting in road games.
Andre Hollins - not related to Austin - has done the opposite, averaging 16.5 points on the road and 11.7 at home. However, he led Minnesota with 22 against the Spartans on Dec. 31.
Updated February 6, 2013