This is Amelia Rayno's third season on the Gophers men's basketball beat. She learned college basketball in North Carolina (Go Tar Heels!), where fanhood is not an option. In 2010, she joined the Star Tribune after graduating from Boston's Emerson College, which sadly had no exciting D-I college hoops to latch onto. Amelia has also worked on the sports desk at the Boston Globe and interned at the Detroit News.

  Follow Rayno on Twitter @AmeliaRayno

Eliason questionable vs. Florida State; Walker's role continues to grow

Posted by: Amelia Rayno under College basketball, Gophers coaches, Gophers players Updated: March 29, 2014 - 5:02 PM

In the time since it last met with Florida State's lengthy-and-rugged interior, Minnesota's frontcourt has gone from questionmark to highlight.

But now, the bolstered Gophers will likely be handicapped in the teams' rendezvous.

One day before Minnesota hopped on its charter to Manhattan -- the top-seeded Gophers will face 3-seed Florida State in the NIT semifinals in Madison Square Garden on Tuesday night -- Elliott Eliason hobbled through Bierman Athletic Building with a boot on his left foot. The new hardware was acquired after falling and turning his ankle in Thursday's practice.

The starting big man did not participate in individual workouts on Friday or practice on Saturday and will be evaluated day to day, coach Richard Pitino said. 

That leaves backup center Mo Walker, who is expected to start on Tuesday against Florida State, the third tallest team in the nation, according to kenpom.com. Eliason could potentially come off the bench.

When Minnesota played the Seminoles in the beginning of December, it was just the fourth game of the season for Walker, who missed the first six contests for violating university policy. Opposite Florida State, he finished with just four points and five rebounds. 

Walker is hardly the same player now.

In the last six games, the Ontario native has averaged 10 points and six rebounds -- scoring 12 or more in three of those -- and in Tuesday's quarterfinal win over Southern Miss, he finished with 12 points, nine rebounds, four assists, three blocks, three steals and zero turnovers.

Facing Florida State's twin towers in Boris Bojanovsky (6-11) and Michael Ojo (7-3) by himself, however, is a much different task. Walker hasn't played more than 28 minutes all season, and is averaging just 17.7 per game. 

He's added new post moves as the year has gone on and become a steady, and at times dominant scorer in the paint, but on the other end of the floor, he's been less than airtight. Rather, it's Eliason, through his offensive ups and downs, that has been the Gophers' critical defensive presence inside.

Mo is playing well, but Elliott is very, very important to our team as well," Pitino said. "We're not better without Elliott, so we've got to get him healthy. If he can't play full minutes, can he give us 10, 15 minutes. That's huge for us because we need a backup center, we can't play Mo for 40 minutes."

If Eliason isn't able to take the floor, the 6-9 Joey King would be the next man up in a very undersized lineup. Austin Hollins or Charles Buggs would play the four in that scenario.

Bojanovsky is averaging 5.9 points and 4.1 rebounds but has proven capable of big games. He ignited for 12 points and 12 rebounds against Maryland in the second round of the ACC tournament. The last outing vs. Minnesota was another one of those games. Bojanovsky had 11 points and four rebounds in 21 minutes in that one, and he and Ojo combined for 17 points and nine rebounds.

"I don't know how effective he's going to be," Pitino said of Eliason. "We'll see how he is moving forward. We've still got three days ... it's not as severe as like Andre's, but we've just got to be leery of it and watch it." 

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