MINNEAPOLIS — Nate Wolters had one last chance to play at Williams Arena on Tuesday.
But that chance went by the wayside at practice on Monday night for the South Dakota State All-American senior point guard when he rolled his right ankle when he landed on a teammate’s foot while going for a rebound.
Without Wolters in the lineup, the Jackrabbits were beaten 88-64 by No. 14 Minnesota Tuesday in a game that was never really in doubt.
“I’m not used to being a spectator,” a sullen Wolters said. “It’s not as fun as playing, that’s for sure. You wish you were out there, especially the way it went. I wanted to help the team. This was a good opportunity for us, it just wasn’t meant to be.”
Wolters, a 2009 St. Cloud Tech graduate, tried to push through the injury during pregame warm-ups, but couldn’t get it to respond.
“I tried to warm up and couldn’t get any lift on it,” Wolters said. “We made the decision to sit out and that’s what was best. It was frustrating.”
In three previous trips to Williams Arena with Wolters in the lineup, the Jackrabbits couldn’t find a way defeat the Gophers. That trend continued Tuesday for South Dakota State, which made it to the second of the NCAA Tournament last March before losing to Baylor. The Jacks are 0-16 all-time against Minnesota.
The Jackrabbits sorely missed Wolters’ presence. He’s averaging 20.8 points, 5.9 rebounds and 6.1 assists per game this season in an average of 36 minutes a game. The Sports Illustrated second team preseason All-American was replaced by freshman point guard Jake Bittle in the starting lineup.
South Dakota State junior guard Chad White was disappointed the Jackrabbits couldn’t play better without Wolters around.
“We know Nate’s a big part of this team, but we wanted to prove we could do well once without him,” said White, who had 10 points. “We didn’t do well with it. We got out-physicaled. We made too many stupid mistakes. Playing a team like that, it will hurt you.”
White was stonefaced when asked if he thought the outcome would’ve been different with Wolters around.
“I have no idea what would’ve happened,” he said.
South Dakota State head coach Scott Nagy, who guided the Jackrabbits in their transition from Division II to Division I, didn’t think Wolters’ injury was that serious on Monday. Wolters said he hopes to be back for Sunday’s home game against CSU-Bakersfield in Brookings, S.D.
“We were hoping that when he left practice he would still play,” Nagy said. “I didn’t know how bad it was. I didn’t want to spend a lot of time talking about it. I don’t expect him back Thursday (at home against Dakota State).”
Nagy knew Wolters was disappointed he couldn’t play.
“I’m disappointed for him because this is a big game for him. We know how close he is to everybody back here in Minnesota,” Nagy said. “A lot of people look up to him here. But we had to make a decision that was best for the team in the long run. It certainly wasn’t for him to play tonight. He wouldn’t have been able to do anything.”
Minnesota point guard Andre Hollins led the Golden Gophers with 22 points. Many fans were expecting a showdown between Hollins and Wolters, but came away disappointed.
Wolters had a lot of family and friends in town to watch the game. His mother, Bonnie, has family in Minneapolis.
“A lot of them wanted to see me play. They don’t get too many chances to come out to South Dakota,” he said. “This was their one chance. I know they’re disappointed. It would’ve been fun. I always love playing this game.”
Wolters called this Golden Gophers team the best he’s seen in his four years playing against them.
“They’re so athletic. It’s by far the best team they’ve had,” Wolters said. “They’ve started the season really well. It would’ve been awesome to win one here in my career. It’s really tough to miss since it’s my senior year.”
One of the final questions thrown at Wolters by the media was the proverbial one: did Minnesota ever recruit him when he was starring at St. Cloud Tech? Wolters chuckled a little bit, but answered it for maybe the one-millionth time.
“They never contacted me. I never thought about it. I didn’t think I was good enough to play here,” Wolters said.
The reporter told him he’s good enough now.
“I agree,” Wolters said with a smile.