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

Hollins and Walker receive Big Ten honorable mentions

Posted by: Amelia Rayno Updated: March 9, 2015 - 6:47 PM

Minnesota seniors Andre Hollins and Mo Walker received Big Ten honorable mentions when the conference announced its postseason awards on the Big Ten Network on Monday evening. 

Hollins was honored by both media and the coaches, while Walker received a nod from only the media. It was his first career All-Big Ten.

Hollins, who is fourth on Minnesota's all-time scoring list with 1,752 career points, has started every game this season and leads the team with 14.3 points a game, while also averaging 4.1 rebounds and 2.7 assists. It is his third consecutive honorable mention in addition to being named to the media's third team in 2013. Hollins scored his second career double-double at Nebraska on Jan. 20, posting 21 points and a career-high 11 rebounds.

He was also recognized as the Gophers' honoree for the Big Ten Sportsmanship Award.

Walker is averaging 12 points, 6.6 rebounds and 1.3 blocks per game and has posted career-best numbers in almost every category this season, capped by a 26-point, 11-rebound performance in Minnesota's 79-76 loss to Penn State on Sunday.

The Gophers haven't had any players named to all-conference teams, all-defensive teams, or all-freshmen teams in the last two years.

The full Big Ten honors:

Player of the Year: Frank Kaminksy, Wisconsin
Coach of the Year: Bo Ryan, Wisconsin (coaches); Mark Turgeon, Maryland (media)
Freshman of the Year: D'Angelo Russell, Ohio State
Defensive Player of the Year: Rapheal Davis, Purdue
Sixth Man of the Year: Gabe Olaseni, Iowa

Coaches All-Big Ten first team:

Yogi Ferrell, Indiana
Aaron White, Iowa
Dez Wells, Maryland
D'Angelo Russell, Ohio State
Frank Kaminsky, Wisconsin

Media All-Big Ten first team:

Yogi Ferrell, Indiana
Aaron White, Iowa
Melo Trimble, Maryland
D'Angelo Russell, Ohio State
Frank Kaminsky, Wisconsin

Coaches All-Big Ten second team:

Melo Trimble, Maryland
Branden Dawson, Michigan State
D.J. Newbill, Penn State
A.J. Hammons, Purdue
Sam Dekker, Wisconsin

Media All-Big Ten second team:

Dez Wells, Maryland
Branden Dawson, Michigan State
D.J. Newbill, Penn State
A.J. Hammons, Purdue
Sam Dekker, Wisconsin

Coaches All-Big Ten third team

Jarrod Uthoff, Iowa
Travis Trice, Michigan State
Denzel Valentine, Michigan State
Terran Petteway, Nebraska
Nigel Hayes, Wisconsin

Media All-Big Ten third team
Jake Layman, Maryland
Travis Trice, Michigan State
Denzel Valentine, Michigan State
Terran Petteway, Nebraska
Nigel Hayes, Wisconsin

All-Defensive team

Nnanna Egwu, Illinois
Branden Dawson, Michigan State
Rapheal Davis, Purdue
AJ Hammons, Purdue
Josh Gasser, Wisconsin

All-Freshman team

James Blackmon Jr., Indiana 
Melo Trimble, Maryland
Bryant McIntosh, Northwestern
D'Angelo Russell, Ohio State
Jae'sean Tate, Ohio State

11-seed Minnesota facing 14-seed Rutgers in the Big Ten tournament first round on Wednesday

Posted by: Amelia Rayno Updated: March 9, 2015 - 12:35 PM

Minnesota's loss vs. Penn State last night combined with Nebraska's ever-so-slight loss vs. Maryland ensures the Gophers will enter the Big Ten Tournament with the 11-seed, and will face 14-seed Rutgers in the first round on Wednesday. 

The Gophers played the Scarlett Knights just once this season, topping them 89-80 at home for their first conference win of the year -- a game in which Andre Hollins also broke out of his slump and hit seven three-pointers.

That was early, when Minnesota still nursed visions that it could pull out of its early doldrums and make a run. 

Now, after losing five of its last six, the team needs to legitimately work to rustle up excitement for a win-or-go-home Big Ten tournament, coach Richard Pitino said. 

Minnesota probably needs at least a couple wins to feel good about its chances in making the NIT. An NCAA tournament berth, of course, would require the Gophers to win all five. 

Lately, they haven't shown any hints that they're capable of such a task.

"What we've got to do is get these guys regrouped, believing in themselves to go pull off a very, very difficult feat," Pitino said. "To lose in the fashion that we did, on senior day, we can't let all of these close losses take away from -- I don't know if fun is the right word, but getting them playing with that competitive spirit like we need to continue to do."

That starts with getting a team motivated and ready to play last-place Rutgers, losers of 14 straight. Sunday's regular-season finale vs. the lowly Penn State featured a sluggish start by a Gophers team that didn't snap awake until the second half, when they were trailing by 13.

"I don't think there is a sense of entitlement like who are we to be playing the 14-seed," Pitino said. "So I don't think that part is what's a challenge. The challenge is losing like we did was difficult. I rewatched the game a couple of times and I really thought we played hard, I thought we played with emotion. We're just not ending up on the winning side of things."


Other notes:

*If Minnesota were to advance in the Big Ten tournament, it would play all teams that its faced just once this season, up to the title game. The Gophers, with wins, would be guaranteed to play 6-seed Ohio State and 3-seed Michigan State in the next two rounds and then either Northwestern, Indiana or Maryland in the semi-final, all teams Minnesota has seen just once this year.  

*Pitino said the coaches will scout and prepare ahead for Ohio State, but leading up to Wednesday, the players will focus solely on Rutgers. 

*The Big Ten will announce its All-conference teams tonight at 5 p.m. CT, on Big Ten Network. Asked whether he believed Andre Hollins and Mo Walker -- who are on the ballot -- are deserving on any nods this year, Pitino replied "It's hard to say. It's funny, you start thinking like that and then when you have to pick, there are so many good players in our league. Mo, last night played like an all-conference player. And certainly just getting that consistency is something that we battle with with everybody. So I'm not sure." Minnesota was the only conference squad a year ago that didn't have a player named to any of the three teams.

Postgame: Loss vs. Penn State on buzzer-beating three is "fitting" end

Posted by: Amelia Rayno Updated: March 8, 2015 - 4:45 PM

Read my full game story on Minnesota’s 79-76 regular-season finale home loss to Penn State here (if you dare).

Three quick observations before I leave this building for the last time this season:

Fitting. After coach Richard Pitino had cooled down from his sideline fury and sat down in front of the podium, he called it “a little bit fitting” that Minnesota would lose its final game in such a fashion as it did – on DJ Newbill’s 23-foot rainbow that sucked any remaining life out of the Barn at the buzzer. The Gophers, of course, have lost eight (EIGHT!) conference games decided by six points or fewer this season, and have played in 11 such games. Weeks ago, Pitino shunned the comments going around about Minnesota being “unlucky,” suggesting instead that the Gophers should make their own luck. Now, the coach has embraced the theory. “It hasn’t quite gone our way this year. I’m not saying we’re unlucky, but I don’t know if we’ve been lucky.”

Run in the days ahead? I don’t see it. Now, Minnesota – which will either play Penn State again or Rutgers depending on what plays out with the Nebraska-Maryland game tonight – would need to win five games to make the NCAA tournament, something that players are still talking about. “I think we have a run in us,” Mo Walker said. “I think we can do big things. I think we can surprise a lot of people.” Such things are hard to imagine. Minnesota has foiled nearly every opportunity it’s gotten this season, losing close game after close game and then laying an egg vs. Wisconsin in a contest that could have actually changed the Gophers’ fate to some extent.

Wasted career day. While Andre Hollins had a three-minute hot stretch in the first half, and then went ice cold in the second, Walker was busy playing his way to his best game of the season on a day when his parents were present for senior day. He was the catalyst throughout, dominating the paint, finishing with a new career-high 26 points and 11 rebonds – his third double-double – and getting to the line 14 times, also a career high. Unfortunately for Walker, something that has often been the case this season, he couldn’t find enough support around him.

Gophers pregame: Win or loss today vs. Penn State affects Minnesota's position in Big Ten tournament

Posted by: Amelia Rayno Updated: March 8, 2015 - 10:38 AM

Minnesota hosts Penn State at noon on Sunday. Watch on Big Ten Network and listen live on 1500-a.m.

After a loss to Wisconsin on Thursday, today's game no longer directly has much if any bearing on the Gophers' postseason stance, but will significantly affect Minnesota's seeding in the Big Ten tournament.

A win over the Nittany Lions gives Minnesota the tenth seed, and thus a single bye. In that scenario, the Gophers would play 7-seed Indiana on Thursday (the Hoosiers guaranteed their spot yesterday when Illinois lost to Purdue) for the right to face 2-seed Maryland.

A loss today would sink the Gophers to the 11th seed at best (Northwestern is 1-0 vs. Minnesota this year and therefore has the tiebreaker in the event of matching conference records) and a 12th seed at worst. If the Gophers landed at 11th, they would have to play 14-seed Rutgers on Wednesday, in the first round. The winner would move on to play No. 6 Ohio State (whose game vs. Wisconsin today has no bearing on its seeding). But they could fall to 12th if a loss corresponds with Nebraska upsetting No. 10 Maryland today since that would put Nebraska, Minnesota and Northwestern in a 6-12 tie, and Minnesota is 1-12 vs. that group.

In the first scenario, Minnesota would have to win four games to claim the title -- the only remaining opportunity for Minnesota to slide into the NCAA tournament. Either of the latter situations would mean the Gophers would have to win five consecutive games, but as the potential 12th seed, the path might actually be the easiest. In that case, Minnesota would play 13-seed Penn State again and then advance to games vs. Purdue, Iowa and then the semi-final vs. Wisconsin or Michigan/Illinois before going up against the winner of the bottom half of the bracket.

If Minnesota loses to Penn State and Nebraska DOESN'T upset Maryland however, the path gets significantly tougher: Rutgers, Ohio State, Michigan State, {winner of Maryland vs Indiana/Northwestern} and then the winner of the other side of the bracket.

If Minnesota were to win vs Penn State, the Gophers' path looks tougher than Scenario one on paper, but consider that the Gophers have only faced the first three matchup teams once: Indiana, Maryland, {Michigan State or Ohio State unless the latter is upset by Northwestern or Rutgers} and then the winner of the other side of the bracket, potentially 1-seed Wisconsin or 4-seed Iowa.

None of the potential landscapes make it seem likely for the Gophers to somehow advance all the way to the championship game, but a win today is the only way Minnesota can control its own fate. Cutting one major matchup out of the equation could make a big difference.

Other notes on today's game:

**Today is senior day and five will be honored -- centers Mo Walker and Elliott Eliason, guard Andre Hollins and DeAndre Mathieu and walk-on Kendall Shell -- will be honored before the game.

**Minnesota has only been swept by Penn State one in the teams' history: 2011.

**Andre Hollins needs 38 points to surpass Randy Breuer for third on Minnesota's all-time scoring list.

Konate once again a silver lining in loss vs. Wisconsin

Posted by: Amelia Rayno Updated: March 6, 2015 - 10:47 AM

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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