Bakary Konate got both hands on the ball and didn't pause.

Now nearing the end of a freshman season that has been anything but smooth, the talented 6-11 center radiated confidence. Now, he knows what to do. 

Without putting the ball on the ground, Konate pivoted and released the hook shot quickly, over the head of Wisconsin superstar Frank Kaminsky, who mostly ran the table vs. Minnesota in a 76-63 win at Williams Arena on Thursday night but who was occasionally hindered by the Gophers' youthful big man.

Swish. The Gophers were within ten with 54 seconds until halftime after falling behind by as many as 20.

Ultimately, it didn't help the overall result. But the shot was one of several notable highlights on both ends of the ball for Konate, who blocked a shot from Zak Showalter shortly after getting in the game for the season time and 30 seconds later stole a pass from Kaminsky.

Konate finished with seven points on 3-for-3 shooting, four rebounds, a steal and a block in 17 minutes and proved more efficient even than his senior counterpart, Mo Walker -- who had 11 rebounds but also managed just 7 points on 3-for-7 shooting in 23 minutes.

Perhaps just as notably, the freshman gave a slumping crowd at the Barn a reason to be excited -- about eight months from now, that is. 

"What he does, you can’t really coach," coach Richard Pitino said. "He’s got size, he’s quick, he's a quick jumper. He really gets every rebound that’s in his area. Extremely willing to learn. Works his butt off -- one of the hardest working guys. So I think he’s got an extremely high ceiling. I really, really do, I'm excited about him."

Since mid-November, we have watched Konate progress from a complete liability on the court to a player who is legitimately earning minutes, and is starting to use his size and natural talent in ways his coach dreamed about when he first recruited him.

Pitino noted that a few months ago, when Konate got the ball in the post, he might want to dribble, "make a millions moves." Now, he's just playing.

"I try to play simple and not think to much," Konate said. "Catch a ball and move on quick.

"I feel confident and relaxed and the communication with the team and the coach, I feel more engaged now with the team."

Konate's first year hasn't been easy -- the intensive English program he was placed him forced him to leave practices half an hour early and show up for games just 20 minutes before tipoff.

Still, the center -- who previously played in Africa and Europe -- has shown impressive growth. Recruiting him was a risk for Pitino and Co. Although Konate has the body and athleticism to potentially play at this level, it's hard to judge whether an individual will grasp that capacity and really drive it.

Konate has certainly made the first steps. His African counterpart, freshman Gaston Diedhiou, is understandably farther behind -- he wasn't allowed to join the team until December because of an admissions decision -- but Pitino is encouraged about him too. Although he put the pair in together briefly at the end of the game last night, he's not fully comfortable with that frontcourt just yet, mostly because of the communication deficit, he said.

But fans can expect to see it plenty next year.

"He’s just a presence," Pitino said of Konate. "He’s a big presence. Even Gas, who is not quite ready to play in those types of games, is a presence. I’m excited to build around those guys. 

"...As we build, we need to get bigger. There were a lot of times, we just had matchup issues. Sam Dekker, playing the three, posting up Carlos Morris, that’s a size advantage. They're certainly going to be a major, major part of it next year."

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