When I talked to Elliott Eliason for the first time, on media day, he seemed somewhat unsure of his role this year.
To be honest, so was I, and a lot of Gophers fans probably felt the same way.
But eight games and one major injury in, his place on the Gophers squad is crystal clear, and more important than anyone could have predicted. As the backup center and bigman, Eliason has suddenly become a critical element in the glue that is holding the Gophers together.
Wednesday against Virginia Tech, in the Gophers first real experiment without Trevor Mbakwe, who is out for the season with a torn right ACL, and Ralph Sampson III, who is nursing a turned ankle, Eliason started and proved he belonged there.
The redshirt freshman impressed all night:
- He scored well, finishing with eight points in 32 minutes and netting a few key rebounds
- He was aggressive under the basket and seemingly always there
- He rebounded well, finishing with seven
- He played good defense
- He passed well and had a nice high-low option going with Rodney Williams
- He had zero turnovers
“He was solid,” coach Tubby Smith said. “He bangs, he hustles, he’s flailing around out there, he’s just always around the basket. He keeps it up high, he doesn’t bring it down. He’s a good player, a good decision maker. He had a solid game.”
Smith said Eliason has gotten a lot stronger since last season, and it’s clear he’s gotten more comfortable on the court as well – in his first few outings this season he looked awkward and out of place at times.
“Obviously redshirting meant a lot for him and it’s paying dividends for us right now,” Smith said.
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Michigan, No. 4 Iowa and No. 2 Maryland are the next three teams on the schedule before Minnesota meets Rutgers, which is also winless in the Big Ten.