Rayno: Encouraging 'D' by Walker, but he has a long way to go
- Blog Post by: Amelia Rayno
- February 17, 2014 - 11:05 AM
Now that Mo Walker has been steadily rolling off successions of successful box score lines, his goals are morphing.
Now, it's about staying on the court as long as possible.
The backup center started to make a strong case for even more minutes last night in the Gophers 54-48 win over Northwestern, displaying a side of his game we haven't really associated with him: good, strong defense.
Walker, who has thrived on the offensive end as of late, blocked three shots and was a critical cog in defending the pick-and-roll.
"They'll hurt you," Gophers coach Richard Pitino said of the Wildcats. "They're hard to guard with that stuff. So it's just as much the five men as it is our guards defensively."
The Minnesota coach has used his pair of big men like a "two-headed monster" as he likes to say, using his offense-defense game plan to get the best out of both players.
For the most part, Walker has been utilized for his offense, while Pitino starts Elliott Eliason and switches him back in when the Gophers are in need of a defensive presence.
"Usually that's Elliott's role, but coach kind of stressed defense and getting stops tonight," Walker said. "So that's where I pretty much focused all my energy and efforts.
"First things first, everyone wants to win. But the next thing out there is just being out on the floor for as long as possible. I want to be out there. I know if I take my defense to another level I can be out there."
It's something Walker says he's been stressing in practice, picking up tips and techniques from his 1-on-1 partner, Eliason. But Walker still has a ways to go. At Wisconsin, the junior had one of his worse defensive showings of the year after getting into early foul trouble and then playing without much energy or aggressiveness down the stretch. Pitino said he hasn't seen huge improvement in the big's defense behind the scenes just yet, but he thinks the importance of it is beginning to click.
"I think he understands if he wants to stay on the court, he needs to guard," Pitino said. "At the Wisconsin game, he was so bad defensively ... it really hurt us in some crucial moments, so I know he was taking pride in defense yesterday and it was huge."
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