Read my game story on the Gophers' 79-57 win over Wofford here.
It could have been easy for the Gophers to space out for tonight's game against Wofford.
After Tuesday's win over Coastal Carolina, there was just one day of turnaround, one practice to prepare for a new team and a game in which the Gophers would be even more shorthanded without forward Joey King, who fractured his jaw after colliding with Andre Hollins.
Looming ahead, was a trip to Hawaii and a first-round matchup against No. 9 Syracuse.
But instead of getting caught up in the past or the future, the Gophers simply buckled down and effectively took care of business (even if admittedly, against a pretty bad team).
"I really believe it’s harder to play these games than it is at Richmond or Syracuse in Maui," coach Richard Pitino said. "Because we don’t have to get them excited for those game. You come out here, earlier start, it was kind of a late-arriving crowd, people coming from work or whatever. You’ve got to get it from within."
The Gophers did, getting momentous performances from the two forwards remaining in the rotation: center Elliott Eliason (11 rebounds, 11 points, 7 blocks) and power forward Oto Osenieks (14 points, five rebounds). Both had a little bit of foul trouble, but thankfully for the Gophers, they had no trouble dealing with it. Osenieks had to play at center at a few points in the first half with Eliason on the bench with a pair of fouls. Then, when Osenieks picked up his third, Austin Hollins (18 points, eight rebounds) took the four-spot in a four-guard lineup.
"Oto and Elliott were tremendous," Pitino said. "[Eliason] continues to grow, continues to get better ... And then Oto was very good offensively. I just love the confidence that he’s playing with right now. I keep telling him don’t worry about anything just play aggressively. He’s showing that. To do that without two guys that are going to play major, major minutes and do it with all the type of odd lineups that we played with tonight. I mean, Oto played the five, and that’s tough to do because he never practices at the five. It’s not like we had three days to prepare. We only had one day to prepare. That shows his basketball IQ."
Pitino said he hopes King will be available on Monday for the Syracuse matchup, but he would have a better idea in Hawaii. The Gophers leave for the island tomorrow.
"I think Saturday I’ll have a much better feel," Pitino said. "He’s such a tough kid. I see him and he’s holding an ice pack to his cheek. I say ‘How are you feeling?’ and he says ‘I’m feeling great.’ He doesn’t look great, but that’s what he does. I’ll have a good gauge on Saturday, we’re going to practice Saturday afternoon. You never know with travel and whatever it may be how that stuff will happen. I hope he’s playing though."
A few other notes from tonight's game:
- Eliason flirted with a triple double, but settled for his second-career double-double, the first coming against Lehigh in the opener. The seven blocks were a career high. "I kind of knew I was around the area [of a triple-double] and had a chance, but what can you do," he said. Eliason was in the stands for the women Gophers' Amanda Zuhui B. triple-double a night before, when the center finished with 11 points, 11 rebounds and 10 blocks. "Big Z, man, I was like ahh, I could have got it," Eliason. "She just barely got that block at the end there, watching them play Kansas. You’ve got to give her all kinds of credit. I was so close to doing it, and that would have been pretty awesome."
- Pitino liked that he saw the team being very vocal tonight, in timeouts, talking amongst themselves. "They were talking a lot more than I was," he said. "That’s what I want. Certainly, I’ve got to coach the team, but when you start hearing their voices more than me, you know you’re growing as a team."
- Perhaps tonight was as much a test for the Gophers' coach as it was for the players. "I kept looking at the bench," Pitino said. "And I’m like ‘Well, what position is he going to play, what’s he going to do.’ Normally you have an idea of your rotation. So then your backup four man now because your backup five man. So we had to figure out a couple things. It was a bit of a challenge. I’m happy we got through it. Hopefully we can get back to a healthy Joey King on Monday."
- Austin Hollins seems at ease in the four-guard lineup these days. "It took a little time to get used to because I’ve never really played the four," he said. "But I think I’m starting to get the hang of it and if we need to go small or want to go small to force matchup problems, then I’m comfortable with doing it."
- The Gophers won the loose balls battle, 7-3. They had 41 deflections.