Lost in the Gophers men’s basketball team’s disappointing 1-3 start this season has been the play of sophomore center Daniel Oturu.
The 6-10 former Cretin-Derham Hall standout is about the only bright spot during a three-game losing streak entering Thursday’s game against Central Michigan.
Oturu is averaging 19 points, 11.8 rebounds, 3.5 blocks and shooting 67 percent from the field in four games. He ranks third in the Big Ten in scoring and leads the league in rebounding and field goal percentage.
The Gophers might go as far as Oturu can take them. He’s carrying the load in the post much like All-Big Ten forward Jordan Murphy did the last few years.
“I totally can for sure,” Oturu said about being the go-to guy. “I feel like the last couple games I’ve kind of taken over that role. I’m just trying to do anything I can to help my team win. I listen to coach all of the time. Coach pushes me to play hard all of the time. Coach is always looking for the best for me.”
Remember how Wisconsin’s entire offense in past years went through former Badgers All-American big man Ethan Happ to make plays for himself and getting others open looks?
That’s what Pitino feels could be the best thing for Gophers right now, going through Oturu.
“We need him to be Ethan Happ for us like he was to Wisconsin,” Pitino said after Oturu’s 21 points and 18 rebounds in the 73-69 loss last week at Utah. “But we we’ve got to find a way to win. I know he’s devastated right now. He’s doing a lot of good things, but there’s still things he can get better at – everybody can.”
Sometimes gaudy individual numbers can come against lower-level competition early in nonconference play, but Oturu dominated at times against high-major opponents Oklahoma, Butler and Utah.
Oturu had 14 points in the first half against Butler. He posted 16 points, 10 rebounds and three blocks in the first half last Friday at Utah, which included the first 10 points after the Utes opened the game with a 16-0 lead.
Oturu has extended his shooting range this season. He’s 4-for-6 from three-point range in the last two games. He’s averaging 22.5 points and 14 rebounds in the last two games.
After three games away from Minnesota, Oturu now has a four-game homestand to not only try to get the Gophers back on track, but he can also show the home crowd at Williams Arena how much he's improved.
“Just continuing to play hard as much as possible has been a big help for me,” Oturu said. “But we all have to come together as a collective [group] to try to get more wins.”
Gophers freshman forward Isaiah Ihnen made his college debut in the loss at Utah after missing three games with a wrist injury. Ihnen nailed his first shot as a Gophers on a high-arching three-pointer from the top of the key. Those were his only points in nine minutes.
"I thought it was great to see Isaiah out there," Pitino said. "The length. You just noticed that length with your eyes. He's going to be a really good player. We just needed to get him out there on the court."