Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) basketball teams more often than not have been schedule fodder for their Gopher hosts over the years: 0-19 for the men and 3-6 for women. Arkansas-Pine Bluff (APB) is one of two HBCUs playing the Gopher women this season at Williams Arena in what is commonly known in college athletics as “money games” — the visitors agree to play a Power 5 opponent on the road for a set monetary amount.
A 2015 SB Nation article asked why a school would do this essentially “to get its butt kicked.” HBO’s Real Sports in 2017 called guarantee college football and basketball games important to HBCUs “struggling to keep their doors open…sent off with a needed paycheck,” often as much as five figures plus expenses.
But Arkansas-Pine Bluff Coach Nate Kilbert said in an MSR phone interview that scheduling such games serves other purposes as well. “When we play teams like Minnesota and Wichita State, they have big kids who are really good,” he explained. “The advantage of playing on their court is that there really is no pressure… Everybody in Minnesota expects Minnesota to win. We are the only ones who think we have a chance.”
Playing the Gophers ultimately helps his players prepare for SWAC competition later this season, the head coach pointed out. But he added, “The disadvantage is you play these big schools and they can take your confidence away. Hopefully we will get more confidence because we played well.”
Kilbert’s Golden Lions played Wichita State and Oregon State before its November 20 scheduled game at Minnesota in their November “money” tour.
It is also APB Assistant Coach Danny Evans’ return to the Barn — his 25-years-plus coaching experience includes three seasons at Minnesota as an assistant.
Evans helped recruit Lindsay Whalen and coached her in her first season as a Gopher. She is now in her first-year as Gopher coach. “I am so proud of her,” he said of Whalen in a phone interview. “Her career has been awesome.”
The Golden Lions, members of the Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC), returns with 6’-0” junior guard Shawntayla Harris. “She was all-conference last year,” Evans said. But because APB lost both last year’s leading scorer and starting point guard, both to graduation, Harris “has got a lot of things on her shoulders,” he added.
As a result, four junior college transfers were recruited to provide immediate help this season. “We thrive on the junior college [players] in our conference,” Evans stressed, “because they played at the [college] level after high school. We had to bring in some new kids and some veterans to come in and take over.”
Asked what Gopher fans next week should expect to see from his squad, Kilbert responded, “We want the game to be fast and exciting. Hopefully we will give the Minnesota fans a chance to see how we like to play.”
“They [Minnesota] will be bigger than we are,” Evans noted. “I think we will be competitive. We are not going to look at [them] and be wowed.”
In Gopher news
Male practice players — “scout teams” — have been a regular fixture in women’s basketball as early as 2006. Abdihakim Ghedi, a junior transfer from Wayland (Texas) Baptist College, is on the Gophers women’s scout team this season. He played college ball for two seasons and had hoped to walk on the U of M men’s team.
“I was disappointed because I didn’t get a chance to try out. I got an email [asking] if I was interested to be on the scout team for the women Gophers. I thought that would be fun and a good experience,” the 6’-10” economics major from Edina pointed out.
“I’m trying to make the girls better,” Ghedi stressed.