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
The University of Minnesota earned consecutive Big Ten honors on Monday when center Mo Walker was named player of the week, seven days after guard Andre Hollins got the nod.
The starting big man compiled 33 points and 13 rebounds in two games last week, including a 22-point, seven-rebound, three-block performance in a 92-56 win over North Dakota.
Walker, who was honored for the first time in his career, is averaging 11.2 points and 5.3 rebounds on the year, and has blocked a team-high 18 shots. His 63.5 percent shooting ranks fifth in the league so far this year.
The Gophers have had back-to-back Players of the Week just once before -- in 2002, when Travarus Bennett (Jan. 28) and Rick Rickert (Feb. 4) were named in consecutive weeks.
University of Minnesota international freshman recruit Gaston Diedhiou will retake an English proficiency test next week and the team could know his eligibility status within a few days according to a source with knowledge of the situation.
Diedhiou -- a 6-foot-9 forward and native of Senegal who played in Spain's Canary Islands last year -- committed to Minnesota and new coach Richard Pitino in April but was denied entry by the school's office of admissions.
Director of admissions Rachelle Hernandez would have to approve Diedhiou's new test scores. If she does, Diedhiou would be eligible to compete and receive scholarship money when the second semester begins.
There is no minimum score guidelines for the test -- it's essentially a judgement call, Hernandez explained this summer.
Diedhiou, who passed the NCAA Clearinghouse last summer, has been on campus since August, participating in an English-intensive program as a non-student. He is allowed to watch Gophers practices and games and use the facilities to work out on his own, but he can't practice or go through any training with the team, nor can the team house him or pay for any expenses with scholarship money.
The coaches are not permitted to speak about Diedhiou per NCAA rules, since he is still a recruit.
It's been a dramatic start to the early season so far: four players we thought would be on the roster this summer aren't around. There have been big losses and strong wins, big performances, players who have come up short. And we're only just getting started -- after the holidays comes the Big Ten slate, and the real tests for a Gophers team that is still trying to prove it has more umph than last year's squad that fell short of the NCAA tournament.
Bring your questions about all things Minnesota basketball -- and any other food, whiskey or bigfoot queries you can rummage up -- at noon. I'll be at the link below, live chatting.
Wednesday morning, when a Minnesota team that has struggled to systematically put away lesser opponents woke up, the players were greeted with highlights of a second consecutive upset over Michigan -- a squad ranked at No. 24 in the preseason AP poll.
By the time the Gophers had finished dismantling Southern, 85-57, there was another reminder: Nebraska -- a team ranked 21st before the start of the season -- had just fallen to a team called Incarnate Word.
"They see the scores," coach Richard Pitino said. "It can happen to anybody. This time of year is very difficult with finals and non-big name teams ... So all they need to do is see it, and certainly they understand it."
Before the Wolverines dropped games against NJIT and Eastern Michigan, Purdue fell to North Florida. Indiana also lost at home in a guarantee game vs. Eastern Washington. Then Nebraska added its name among the giants to fall on Wednesday.
After sleep-walking through one half or another in five consecutive games, Minnesota has perked up in its last two, albeit against highly inferior competition.
On Wednesday, after falling behind 6-3, the Gophers ignited a 12-0 run and were never threatened again. The team's high-rolling offense was on display again, with Andre Hollins lighting up the perimeter and ultimately scoring 24 points.
How does he get motivated against a team ranked 323 in the kenpom.com rankings?
"It's actually easier now with the current events that have been going on," Hollins said. "Nebraska just lost to some team. Michigan has lost too -- I saw them lose against Eastern Michigan. Teams have been dropping and letting their guard down this time of year. I just came out and set the tone that we're not going to have that here. We're trying to do something bigger here ... looking at the bigger picture, we have Big Ten coming up and we're trying to be the best that I can be."
Today, Hollins turns 22. Last night, the senior guard was reminiscing about Monday's game, and the bit of athletic display at the end that brought him back to high school.
Hollins had the first two-dunk game of his career (he had one all of last year) in the blowout win vs. North Dakota.
"I told [freshman] Nate [Mason] I was going to dunk that game," the 6-foot-1 Hollins said with a grin. "I just felt like I wanted to be a man of my word. I'm going to get more dunks than [center] Mo [Walker] this year."
Walker, standing at his locker nearby, retorted: "You're not going to have more dunks than me."
Andre replied: "Yes I definitely am. We'll see. They were weak dunks but you have to give me credit."
Not quite the same as his best high school feat, though.
"I had six dunks one game in high school," he said. "I swear. I know that's not going to happen here unless the team dies on the court."
Downtime to study and get over The Death Cough
Pitino noted that with the long layoff -- eight games -- between games, players will take a couple of days off, spend a lot of time on academics -- final exams begin today. Otherwise, the Gophers will turn their focus to a lot of individual work without any game to prepare for for a while.
The players aren't the only ones excited for a bit of a layoff. Pitino sounded like death in last night's postgame conference.
"I feel awful," he said. "I've had this cough for like two weeks and it will not go away. It is driving me insane and it's driving my wife insane. Like, she's going to divorce me soon if this thing doesn't go away. So hopefully a little time off will help, who knows."
Read my full story on the game here.
Three quick observations on tonight's 85-57 win over Southern:
Andre is in a groove. The senior guard has been hot from the perimeter ever since he shoved off a rough NIT Season Tipoff and threw down 27 points at Wake Forest. Hollins' teammates have been finding him, and he's regaining that outside touch we saw in his freshman and sophomore year. Last year -- even after severely spraining an ankle -- and earlier this year I felt like Hollins was forcing drives sometimes, and even ignoring open looks from beyond the arc because he felt like driving into the paint should be his biggest strength. But this kid can shoot, and he's really showing us that again lately.
This team's offense is looking pretty good. Minnesota is shooting well, passing the ball extremely well and scoring inside well. It helps that the two guards at the top have really turned on the chemistry since last year. Hollins and DeAndre Mathieu just feed off each other now. The Gophers' offense was a highlight a year ago, in Pitino's first attempt at a fast-paced game at Minnesota, but this season, it seems to have taken a big step forward. And it doesn't hurt that the backcourt is full of scorers -- Carlos Morris, Mathieu, Hollins and Nate Mason all can put it in the hoop -- the team has been getting far more production than expected out of Joey King, and Mo Walker has improved under the basket.
Tonight was big for the bench. Another win is good, as is another chance for the team to grow on both ends and work on all the little things that have been plaguing it -- like turnovers (again tonight) and rebounding (better but not great still). But the most beneficial aspect? The chance to get reserves Bakary Konate and Charles Buggs on the floor for big minutes. Both are very raw still. Both will be needed come Big Ten slate. The fact that the two combined for 41 minutes is a positive, even if both showed frustrating moments.
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