Gophers centers push to make each other improve

  • Article by: AMELIA RAYNO , Star Tribune
  • Updated: January 4, 2014 - 11:57 PM

Elliott Eliason and Mo Walker have responded to their bigger roles.

hide

In his fourth season with the Gophers, Mo Walker has seen his play improve, thanks in part to losing 60 pounds.

Photo: Renee Jones Schneider, DML - Star Tribune

CameraStar Tribune photo galleries

Cameraview larger

Elliott Eliason stroked his meager beard with one hand, devilishly glancing at Mo Walker.

“I had to beat him,” Eliason said, nodding toward his teammate and fellow big man.

Apparently, that’s the running dynamic.

The two Gophers centers have developed a friendly but intense competitiveness this season in just about everything they do — from trying to get the better of each other in practice, to Eliason sprouting some facial hair to try to out-beard Walker, or so he jokes.

In the process, the duo is essentially executing a 1-on-1 clinic on improving each other’s shortcomings.

Eliason is better defensively, with rebounding and blocking shots, but he has more trouble on the offensive end. Walker has more post moves and is better in the Gophers’ pick-and-roll, but he lacks the same presence defensively and on the glass. Going at each other in practice only helps shore up the corresponding weaknesses for each, while the two are able to witness what works and what doesn’t in real time.

“It’s amazing what Elliott is really good at, Mo’s not as good at, but Elliott’s weaknesses are Mo’s strengths,” coach Richard Pitino said. “If you could just put Elliott and Mo together, they’d be a phenomenal player. What we’ve got to do now is they’ve got to push each other to get better.”

Roles expand

Perhaps the Gophers are starting to see the results. This season, each player has been asked to play a much greater role than a year ago, and more will be expected as the team gets deeper into the Big Ten schedule. Heading into Sunday’s game against Purdue and 7-footer A.J. Hammons, Eliason has gone from 2.2 points an 3.5 rebounds in 13.7 minutes a game to 5.8 points and 8.2 rebounds in 24.7 minutes this year. In three of the past four games, he has scored in double digits and has totaled 37 rebounds in that stretch. Walker has gone from relative irrelevance last year to contributing 5.4 points and 4.3 rebounds in 15.1 minutes a game.

Meanwhile, they have developed a kind of chemistry from fighting, in different ways, the same overwhelming perception: that the Gophers frontcourt is their Achilles’ heel.

“A lot of people don’t really consider us to be a force inside,” Walker said. “But I think we’re going to surprise a lot of people ... even though we might not be the most athletic, but we get up and down the floor a lot better as opposed to last year, we’re getting off the floor a lot better.”

At the “athletic” bit, Eliason failed to stifle a laugh, outwardly acknowledging his lack of athleticism.

Walker, while losing 60 pounds in the offseason — a necessity for getting him into playing shape — is still not very quick. Eliason makes post play look awkward at times because of his lanky frame, but he has found ways to be highly efficient anyway, blocking shots at the 39th-best rate in the country, according to college basketball statistician Ken Pomeroy.

In Thursday’s conference opener against Michigan, the frontcourt was not the Gophers’ weakness, with the backcourt underwhelming in a 63-60 loss. Eliason and Walker were actually pretty effective, with Eliason recording his fourth double-double of the year in 24 minutes — even showcasing a couple of offensive moves in the post for scores — and Walker filling in adequately for Eliason when he was out in the second half due to foul trouble.

With the Gophers struggling to keep up with the Wolverines down the stretch, Walker scored consecutive baskets (including a dunk!) to tie the score at 49-49 with 5:53 to play.

It was the kind of aggressive play the Gophers badly needed.

“You have to be — it’s the Big Ten,” Eliason said. “If you’re passive, they’re going to throw it back in my face and we’re going to get killed down low. There are a lot of really good players in there, and we’re going to see even more every night.”

Tall task ahead

  • related content

  • Gameday preview: Purdue at Gophers basketball

    Saturday January 4, 2014

    gophers gameday1:30 P.M. VS. PURDUE • WILLIAMS ARENA • BTN, 1500-AMGophers at a glance: They lost a heartbreaker in their...

  • Michigan State routs Gophers in Big Ten women's basketball opener

    Sunday January 5, 2014

    Michigan State closed the first half on a big run to take a 17-point lead, and the Gophers never rallied.

  • Starting center Elliott Eliason is considered to be the better defensive player, although his scoring has improved this season.

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions

ADVERTISEMENT

Minnesota 14 2nd Qtr 3:25
Miami 7
Baltimore 0 2nd Qtr 6:30
Houston 6
Detroit 7 2nd Qtr 4:00
Chicago 0
Cleveland 3 2nd Qtr 2:36
Carolina 3
Atlanta 6 2nd Qtr 6:12
New Orleans 7
Green Bay 10 2nd Qtr 4:55
Tampa Bay 0
Kansas City 6 2nd Qtr 3:50
Pittsburgh 10
New England 7 2nd Qtr 2:33
NY Jets 7
NY Giants 3:05 PM
St. Louis
Buffalo 3:25 PM
Oakland
Indianapolis 3:25 PM
Dallas
Seattle 7:30 PM
Arizona
Denver 12/22/14 7:30 PM
Cincinnati
New York 2:30 PM
Toronto
Memphis 3:30 PM
Cleveland
Boston 5:00 PM
Miami
Detroit 5:00 PM
Brooklyn
LA Lakers 5:00 PM
Sacramento
Philadelphia 5:00 PM
Orlando
Phoenix 5:00 PM
Washington
Indiana 6:00 PM
Minnesota
New Orleans 6:00 PM
Oklahoma City
Colorado 5:00 PM
Detroit
Dallas 5:00 PM
Edmonton
Buffalo 6:00 PM
Boston
Carolina 6:00 PM
NY Rangers
Toronto 6:00 PM
Chicago
Philadelphia 8:00 PM
Winnipeg
Harvard 27 FINAL
Virginia 76
Maine 29 2nd Half
Army 29
Ferris State 37 2nd Half
Bowling Green 36
San Francisco 32 2nd Half 18:57
Cleveland State 28
Oregon State 33 2nd Half 14:13
Quinnipiac 37
Coastal Carolina 19 1st Half 2:23
Central Arkansas 25
Holy Cross 2 1st Half 18:40
Canisius 0
Southern Miss 0 1st Half 18:54
Georgia State 2
Western Carolina 0 1st Half 19:38
UNC-Asheville 0
Creighton 3 1st Half 16:37
North Texas 6
Maryland 0 1st Half 20:00
Oklahoma State 0
Cornell 0 1st Half 18:43
Radford 2
Vermont 1 1st Half 18:00
Saint Louis 4
Loyola-Maryland 3 1st Half 18:10
Stony Brook 0
Reinhardt 1:00 PM
Winthrop
Ark-Little Rock 4 1st Half 16:33
Green Bay 8
TX-Pan American 6 1st Half 17:00
Nebraska Omaha 9
Alabama State 0 1st Half 20:00
Evansville 0
FIU 1:30 PM
Hartford
Goshen 1:35 PM
Valparaiso
Bryant 2:00 PM
Denver
Austin Peay 2:00 PM
Lipscomb
Tennessee St 2:00 PM
Middle Tennessee
South Dakota 2:00 PM
Montana
ULM 2:00 PM
Samford
Coker 2:30 PM
South Carolina
USC 3:00 PM
Boston College
Northern Ariz 3:00 PM
Hampton
SD Christian 3:00 PM
San Diego
UC Irvine 3:30 PM
Bradley
Troy 3:30 PM
Nicholls
Seton Hall 5:00 PM
Georgia
Appalachian St 5:30 PM
Alabama
North Dakota St 6:00 PM
Kent State
San Jose St 6:00 PM
Washington St
Alcorn State 8:00 PM
Texas-El Paso
Sacramento St 9:00 PM
Seattle
Nevada 3 FINAL
Louisiana 16
Utah State 21 FINAL
Texas-El Paso 6
(23) Utah 45 FINAL
Colorado State 10
Western Mich 24 FINAL
Air Force 38
South Alabama 28 FINAL
Bowling Green 33
BYU 12/22/14 1:00 PM
Memphis
Marshall 12/23/14 5:00 PM
Northern Ill
Navy 12/23/14 8:30 PM
San Diego St
Central Mich 12/24/14 11:00 AM
Western Ky
Fresno State 12/24/14 7:00 PM
Rice
Illinois 12/26/14 12:00 PM
Louisiana Tech
Rutgers 12/26/14 3:30 PM
North Carolina
NC State 12/26/14 7:00 PM
UCF
Cincinnati 12/27/14 12:00 PM
Virginia Tech
Duke 12/27/14 1:10 PM
(15) Arizona State
Miami-Florida 12/27/14 3:00 PM
So Carolina
Boston College 12/27/14 3:30 PM
Penn State
(25) Nebraska 12/27/14 7:00 PM
(24) USC
Cal-Irvine 55 FINAL
Denver 63
St Marys-CA 52 FINAL
George Washington 70
TX-San Antonio 49 FINAL
Nicholls 57
Portland State 71 FINAL
Columbia 66
Tenn Tech 62 FINAL
Morgan State 56
SMU 43 FINAL
Auburn 56
Quinnipiac 70 FINAL
Hartford 58
Hofstra 75 FINAL
Boston College 61
Eastern Washington 55 FINAL
Georgia Southern 42
Liberty 24 2nd Half 16:03
(1) South Carolina 51
Fairleigh Dickinson 45 2nd Half 13:19
Brown 44
Buffalo 39 2nd Half 17:57
Long Island 33
Bucknell 41 2nd Half 14:54
Mount St Marys 30
Stony Brook 40 2nd Half 17:37
Wagner 35
FIU 45 2nd Half 16:00
Wofford 33
Duquesne 21 2nd Half
Providence 25
Maine 33 2nd Half 13:27
William & Mary 33
Alabama State 20 2nd Half 17:55
Samford 31
TX-Pan American 28 2nd Half 17:47
VA Commonwealth 38
South Dakota St 44 2nd Half 15:46
Marist 47
Saint Josephs 31 2nd Half 12:45
(5) Notre Dame 51
Radford 29 2nd Half 17:55
Virginia Tech 32
(3) Texas 22 1st Half 4:20
(4) Texas A&M 28
Rhode Island 23 1st Half 2:43
Bryant 18
NC A&T 1:00 PM
Chattanooga
Fairfield 1:00 PM
Iowa State
Richmond 1:00 PM
Eastern Kentucky
Kent State 1:00 PM
Colgate
Saint Peters 1:00 PM
Navy
NJIT 1:00 PM
Lafayette
Davidson 1:00 PM
Charlotte
South Florida 4 1st Half 18:06
Penn State 2
Sam Houston St 4 1st Half 16:39
TCU 4
Evansville 0 1st Half 18:33
IUPUI 4
(14) Maryland 9 1st Half 16:54
Coppin State 5
Mercer 6 1st Half 18:06
Coll of Charleston 0
Princeton 0 1st Half 20:00
Monmouth 0
Eastern Illinois 4 1st Half 17:49
Lehigh 2
Rider 2 1st Half 17:14
Binghamton 4
SC State 0 1st Half 19:33
Clemson 0
Cleveland State 12 1st Half 14:35
Morehead St 9
South Alabama 5 1st Half 14:59
UAB 13
Youngstown St 9 1st Half 14:45
Pittsburgh 12
Indiana State 1:30 PM
St Johns
Southern U 1:30 PM
Florida
Wright State 1:30 PM
Purdue
(19) Oklahoma St 2:00 PM
USC
Houston 2:00 PM
Texas Tech
Ark-Little Rock 2:00 PM
Tulsa
Dayton 2:00 PM
Vanderbilt
Northern Ariz 2:00 PM
New Mexico
UNC-Asheville 2:00 PM
USC Upstate
North Dakota 2:00 PM
South Dakota
Western Ill 2:00 PM
Marquette
Elon 2:00 PM
(6) North Carolina
Ball State 2:00 PM
Western Ky
(8) Kentucky 2:00 PM
(13) Duke
New Orleans 2:00 PM
Alabama
Chicago State 2:00 PM
Milwaukee
Bowling Green 2:00 PM
Bradley
Ill-Springfield 2:00 PM
SE Missouri St
Northern Ill 2:00 PM
Northern Iowa
(23) Iowa 2:05 PM
Drake
Central Michigan 2:30 PM
Minnesota
Western Carolina 2:30 PM
North Florida
Wyoming 3:00 PM
Colorado
Portland 3:00 PM
Boise State
Cal Poly 3:00 PM
Colorado State
No Dakota State 3:00 PM
Grand Canyon
Albany 3:00 PM
Cal State Fullerton
Oklahoma 3:00 PM
Arkansas
Idaho State 3:00 PM
Seattle
(18) Michigan State 3:00 PM
(19) Syracuse
Northwestern 3:30 PM
Arizona State
TX-Arlington 3:30 PM
North Texas
Fresno State 4:00 PM
Oregon
St Francis-PA 4:00 PM
Coastal Carolina
UNLV 4:00 PM
CS-Bakersfield
UCLA 4:00 PM
(2) Connecticut
(10) Louisville 4:00 PM
(24) California
Howard 5:00 PM
Virginia
Miami-Ohio 6:00 PM
(21) Miss State
Illinois-Chicago 8:30 PM
Old Dominion

ADVERTISEMENT

question of the day

Poll: How will the Vikings do Sunday against Miami?

Weekly Question

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters

ADVERTISEMENT

 
Close