Minnesota ranks eighth in the country in rebounding margin. UCLA ranks 251st. On paper, it’s a tremendous advantage, and one reason the No. 11-seed Gophers are widely considered favorites over the sixth-seeded Bruins on Friday night.
But forward Travis Wear, who will be tasked with some low-post defensive duties, isn’t too worried about the opposition.
Minnesota’s Trevor Mbakwe is a 6-foot-8, 245-pound forward who led the Big Ten in rebounding. Wear said that the team had already been “battle-tested” against the big men in Pac-12, adding that he had more trouble against slower 7-footers such as Arizona State’s Jordan Bachynski and Washington’s Aziz N’Diaye.
Bachynski notched his only two 20-point games of the season against UCLA, while N’Diaye averaged 14 rebounds in his meetings.
Mbawke isn’t the same towering presence, but is quicker and more athletic. Wear said that as long as he pushed Mbakwe off the block, the all-conference player shouldn’t be be too much of a problem.
“It’s a better matchup for me,” Wear said. “He’s got some pounds on me, but as far as size goes, we’re pretty even. I might even have a little bit of an advantage. I’d much rather guard a guy with his style.”
Asked who Mbakwe compares to in the Pac-12, Wear picked Stanford’s Dwight Powell — minus the perimeter game. Powell averaged 19.5 points and 10.5 rebounds in his two games against UCLA.