Reusse: It's logic: Gophers find bench they need

  • Article by: PATRICK REUSSE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 28, 2013 - 11:33 AM

Eliason, Ahanmisi proved their worth against Indiana.

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Gophers Maverick Ahanmisi (left) and Elliott Eliason double-teamed Indiana's Cory Zeller during the second half of Minnesota's 77-73 upset of the No. 1-ranked Hoosiers at Williams Arena on Tuesday.

Photo: Kyndell Harkness, Star Tribune

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There is a rumor that Tubby Smith has a dartboard in a back room of Williams Arena and that he throws a few before a game to determine how he's going to use his bench.

I'm guessing not ... that it only seems as if Tubby's substitution pattern is entirely random.

Somehow, the darts or the Ouija board or the tarot cards came up in favor of Oto Osenieks in a four-day period last week. He played 47 minutes in losses at Iowa and Ohio State, after playing a total of 45 minutes in 10 previous Big Ten games.

Tubby's games of chance also resulted in Mo Walker lumbering through 17 minutes at Ohio State, after being the occupant of a big hunk of bench for most of the winter.

The explanation is that both losses were blowouts, but are you accomplishing anything by using Walker for twice as many minutes as Elliott Eliason, or Osenieks for long minutes when he's a card-carrying scrubbini?

Eliason was a starter through the nonconference part of the schedule, as Trevor Mbakwe worked his way back from knee surgery. His playing time in Big Ten games was sporadic -- until Feb. 10, when Rodney Williams missed the Illinois game at Williams Arena because of a sore shoulder.

Eliason scored only four points, but he had 10 rebounds, three assists and two blocks in 28 minutes. Watching that 57-53 loss to the Illini you saw Eliason as the least of the Gophers' problems.

"You'' in this case being me, because Tubby didn't see it that way. Eliason played 10 minutes or fewer in two of the next three games.

The 6-11 Eliason is in his third year in the program. He played more minutes than anticipated as a redshirt freshman in 2011-12, after the injury to Mbakwe. You detected things to build on in his game.

Then again, you detected things to build on when 6-11 Colton Iverson was a freshman in 2008-09. By the time his junior season was over, his play had regressed and he was willing to sit a year at Colorado State just to get out of here.

Maverick Ahanmisi came in with Eliason in the fall of 2010. He started five games as a freshman and seven as a sophomore. There was speculation that both sophomore guards, Ahanmisi and Chip Armelin, were going to leave last spring. Ahanmisi stayed, with a strong indication from coaches that there would be substantial minutes for him at point guard.

Ahanmisi hasn't played well in Big Ten games, perhaps because he hasn't played all that much. "Turn it over and get ready to sit down'' -- basically, that's the burden under which Ahanmisi has played during the conference schedule.

The problem with that is the Gophers are better off when Andre Hollins can slide over to a wing and hunt for shots. Hollins is a B-plus as a shooter and a C as a ball-handler, so if someone else can handle the point ...

Ahanmisi stood up to become that player Tuesday. And Eliason was a fanatic in the middle -- sharing that attitude with Mbakwe -- and helped the Gophers beat up No. 1 Indiana for a 77-73 upset.

Ahanmisi played 21 minutes, with two huge threes, three assists and two rebounds. He played 13 of those minutes with Andre Hollins on his wing, and the offense looked better than it has in weeks.

Eliason played 14 minutes but it seemed like 30. He had seven points, five rebounds, an emphatic block and four nasty fouls. And it was he and Ahanmisi who brought the Gophers from down 44-36 with 15 1/2 minutes left to 56-all when Ahanmisi left at 5:12.

The run started with an enormous three by Ahanmisi, then seven consecutive points for Eliason. They had assists for one another. They had rebounds and hustled to loose balls on both ends.

Tubby went to his bench for four players and 46 minutes. Eliason and Ahanmisi played 35 of those, with a combined 13 points, seven rebounds, four assists and one (Eliason) turnover.

Logic says Smith now has a bench for tough games: Eliason in middle, Ahanmisi in the backcourt, and a couple of shifts for the hard-working Andre Ingram.

That's enough. That's logic. Where Tubby's darts will fall ... we can't be sure.

Patrick Reusse can be heard from 3-6 p.m. weekdays on AM-1500. preusse@startribune.com

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