Hurdling the Williams wall

Minneapolis Blake Hoffarber sat on top of the backrest of his team's bench after a Friday afternoon practice at Williams Arena. He had somewhat of an aerial view of the court, compared to the one North Dakota State's men's basketball players will...



Blake Hoffarber sat on top of the backrest of his team's bench after a Friday afternoon practice at Williams Arena. He had somewhat of an aerial view of the court, compared to the one North Dakota State's men's basketball players will have when they sit lower on the bench itself in today's game against Hoffarber and the Gophers.

When asked why opponents have trouble winning in Williams Arena, Hoffarber scanned the 80-year-old arena known as "The Barn."

"The atmosphere," said Hoffarber, a sophomore guard who went to Gophers games with his dad while growing up in nearby Hopkins, Minn.

Hoffarber then pointed to the raised floor - which is eye level for players and coaches sitting on the bench.


"The floor is a little different, so that could be something," Hoffarber said, trying to explain why the Gophers have posted a

698-276 record in "The Barn" since it opened in 1928.

Senior forward Jamal

Abu-Shamala, who played high school ball in nearby Shakopee, was also quick to mention the raised floor.

"I don't know if it's intimidating for other teams because it's something they're not used to," Abu-Shamala said. "This is a one-of-a-kind arena. You go anywhere in the country and you won't find an arena like this. There is no place louder. I don't know if I would like to come in here and play in this arena."

Williams Arena certainly hasn't been kind to the Bison. In the last three years, the Bison have lost three games by an average score of 75-54. And despite what Hoffarber described at Williams Arena's "soft, shooters' rims" and "bouncy" wood floor, the Bison have averaged only 26 percent shooting (22 percent from the 3-point line) in the last three games here. They have also averaged 19 turnovers.

For Bison seniors Ben Woodside, Brett Winkelman, Mike Nelson and Lucas Moormann - who have each played in the last three games - today is their last chance to prove that they can play a good game in Williams Arena.

"If I had an answer to our problems there, I would tell you," said Woodside, the point guard from Albert Lea, Minn., who has averaged only 9.3 points and 21 percent shooting in his three Williams Arena performances.


"It's a tough atmosphere and it is an interesting arena with the raised floor," said Winkelman, a forward from Morris, Minn., who has averaged 9 points and 25 percent shooting at Williams Arena. "All that put aside, we haven't played to our full potential down there. Hopefully we will this time."

Tim Miles, who lost two games at Williams Arena as NDSU's head coach and again last year as Colorado State's head coach, feels "The Barn" is one of the few places in the country where the fans can make a difference.

"The noise kind of cascades down on that raised stage and I think their players feed off of that," Miles said.

As an assistant coach at Wisconsin, Saul Phillips experienced Williams Arena annually before he came to NDSU in 2004. Now NDSU's second-year head coach, Phillips said three of the five worst played games the Bison have played in the last four years have been at Williams Arena.

"I always thought it was the loudest arena in the Big Ten ... period," Phillips said. "When it gets cranked up in there, you won't play in another arena like it, I promise you that. But really, it shouldn't make any difference where you play. Personally, I like going there. It's a fun stage to play on."

The Bison might catch a break this year, with many Minnesota students gone for the Thanksgiving break. Minnesota officials said Friday they are not expecting their usual sellout crowd of 14,625. But Gophers players are still expecting that boost from what head coach Tubby Smith describes as that "sixth-man" advantage.

"People say there is something magical about it," Abu-Shamala said. "Coming down the stretch, if you need a push, the fans will get loud and provide so much energy. It just pushes a team along. I think that would be tough to play against."



- Construction of Williams Arena started in 1927 and was completed in 1928. It cost $650,000.

- Building is named in honor of Dr. Henry L. Williams, a University of Minnesota football coach from 1900 to 1921.

- From 1950 to 1971, it had the largest capacity of any college basketball arena in the country.

- Williams Arena underwent a renovation in 1991 as part of a $41 million project for on-campus facilities.

- In 1997, 21 barn lofts were built above the second floor of Williams Arena, offering a birds-eye view of the game.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Kevin Schnepf at (701) 241-5549

Schnepf's NDSU media blog can be found at

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