Is this the beginning of a new start from Mo Walker?
It sure seems like it.
The big man stepped up on Monday in a way we haven't ever seen him do in a Gophers jersey. After coming off the bench, Walker recorded 17 points and 13 rebounds with two blocks inn 24 minutes. He had energy under the basket, he showed off his spring again with another dunk -- he was playing, in short, like a new man.
Of course, it was only an exhibition. Performances against Div. II opponents don't do more than raise an eyebrow or two. But Walker taking the next step would go a long way in helping the frontcourt-thin Gophers.
As a whole, the frontcourt contributed a more concerted all-around effort than it did Friday. As a corps, the forwards played more aggressively and rebounded better, albeit against a team that doesn't have anyone taller than 6-8. Joey King had a really strong all-around performance, recording nine points, five rebounds and three steals -- and showing his versatility but hitting a long 3-pointer in the first half (although he was 1-for-5 overall from the distance). Oto Osenieks had a big second half, grabbing six rebounds and scoring ten points, and starting the Gophers off with a pair of big blocks in the first. Elliott Eliason had just three rebounds but added eight points and a block. The Gophers out-rebounded Concordia-St. Paul 45-31 after falling short against Cardinal Stritch in that category on Friday.
Pitino said Walker is still a ways from peaking. After not playing many minutes for the past three years, the learning curve is long.
"He’s still kind of coming into his body a little bit," Pitino said. "When you lose that much weight – he just doesn’t even know his strengths sometimes.He was hurt and then he didn’t play a whole lot last year. And he’s still kind of coming into his body a little bit. When you lose that much weight – he just doesn’t even know his strengths sometimes."
That Walker had a big performance Monday was nice to see. The center has obviously put a ton of work into getting into shape this year, an effort that is speaking for itself on the court. The Gophers certainly hope it continues, when games count.
Other notes from the 101-67 win over Concordia-St. Paul.
- Tonight was the third time the Gophers have hit the 100 points plateau in eight seasons -- all were exhibitions.
- Walker's 17 points and 13 rebounds each would have been career highs had they counted toward the official stats
- It seemed inevitable that the Gophers' assist to turnover ratio would even out after a stellar 23-7 showing on Friday. It did that tonight, with the Gophers getting 21 assists, but turning the ball over 14 times. They forced 18 turnovers, many of those late with Concordia seeming a bit worn down by the pace at the end.
- Chris Halvorsen had three points and four rebounds. Osenieks was guarding him and blocked at least one of his shots. Halvorsen was the "victim" of a lot of aggressive play, with Elliott Eliason intentionally fouling him and one other strange situation in which Joey King seemed to kind of get stuck on top of him for a while after going for a loose ball (that incident was fairly hilarious and possibly the highlight of the game). He tried to dunk on Osenieks at one point, but lost the ball at the rim. "We wanted to beat him," said Osenieks, Halvorsen's former roommate, with a grin. "He said he was going to dunk on me but that didn't happen.
- Once again, Minnesota shot well, completing 57.7 percent of their shots overall, and 61.1 percent of their offerings in the second half, when they really closed strong.
- The Gophers' season opener is Friday, with a 7 p.m. game against Lehigh.