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

Philadelphia 12/20/14 3:30 PM
Washington
San Diego 12/20/14 7:25 PM
San Francisco
Minnesota 12/21/14 12:00 PM
Miami
Baltimore 12/21/14 12:00 PM
Houston
Detroit 12/21/14 12:00 PM
Chicago
Cleveland 12/21/14 12:00 PM
Carolina
Atlanta 12/21/14 12:00 PM
New Orleans
Green Bay 12/21/14 12:00 PM
Tampa Bay
Kansas City 12/21/14 12:00 PM
Pittsburgh
New England 12/21/14 12:00 PM
NY Jets
NY Giants 12/21/14 3:05 PM
St. Louis
Buffalo 12/21/14 3:25 PM
Oakland
Indianapolis 12/21/14 3:25 PM
Dallas
Seattle 12/21/14 7:30 PM
Arizona
Denver 12/22/14 7:30 PM
Cincinnati
Utah 6:00 PM
Orlando
Charlotte 6:00 PM
Philadelphia
Brooklyn 6:30 PM
Cleveland
Washington 6:30 PM
Miami
Minnesota 6:30 PM
Boston
Toronto 6:30 PM
Detroit
Chicago 7:00 PM
Memphis
Portland 7:00 PM
San Antonio
LA Clippers 8:00 PM
Denver
Oklahoma City 9:30 PM
LA Lakers
Tampa Bay 6:00 PM
New Jersey
Anaheim 6:30 PM
Ottawa
NY Islanders 6:30 PM
Detroit
Boston 7:00 PM
Winnipeg
Dallas 8:00 PM
Calgary
Wilberforce 71 FINAL
Youngstown St 92
Jackson State 49 FINAL
Tulane 56
Siena 20 1st Half 7:31
Radford 21
Stillman 6:00 PM
Alabama
Case Western Reserve 6:00 PM
Bucknell
Niagara 6:00 PM
Buffalo
SD Christian 6:00 PM
UC Santa Barbara
Concordia (MI) 6:00 PM
Central Mich
Northern Ill 6:00 PM
Dartmouth
North Florida 6:00 PM
Florida A&M
Hiwassee 6:00 PM
Gardner-Webb
Tennessee St 6:00 PM
Hampton
NC A&T 6:00 PM
Kent State
Central Penn College 6:00 PM
Liberty
Bethune-Cookman 6:00 PM
Mercer
Eastern Ky 6:00 PM
Miami-Florida
Northern Ky 6:00 PM
Morehead State
Northern Ariz 6:00 PM
Norfolk State
MD-Eastern Shore 6:00 PM
Old Dominion
St Marys-CA 6:00 PM
St Johns
Clemson 6:00 PM
South Carolina
Tenn Tech 6:00 PM
Tennessee
Washington-MD 6:00 PM
William & Mary
Furman 6:30 PM
Fla Gulf Coast
South Dakota St 6:30 PM
CS-Bakersfield
Milligan 7:00 PM
Lamar
LSU-Alexandria 7:00 PM
ULM
Southern Utah 7:00 PM
Loyola-Chicago
Chattanooga 7:00 PM
Middle Tennessee
Seattle 7:00 PM
Minnesota
Lipscomb 7:00 PM
Princeton
Winthrop 7:00 PM
SE Louisiana
Dickinson State 7:00 PM
North Dakota
New Orleans 7:05 PM
Southern Ill
TX-Pan American 8:00 PM
Creighton
Colorado State 8:00 PM
Denver
Alabama A&M 8:00 PM
Marquette
Ark-Pine Bluff 8:00 PM
Texas Tech
Eastern Wash 9:00 PM
California
Idaho State 9:05 PM
Utah State
Arizona 10:00 PM
Texas-El Paso
Hawaii 10:59 PM
Chaminade
Nevada 12/20/14 10:00 AM
Louisiana
Utah State 12/20/14 1:20 PM
Texas-El Paso
(23) Utah 12/20/14 2:30 PM
Colorado State
Western Mich 12/20/14 4:45 PM
Air Force
South Alabama 12/20/14 8:15 PM
Bowling Green
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
Ohio Valley 33 FINAL
Youngstown St 84
East Tenn St 48 FINAL
UNC-Wilmington 61
Cal-Irvine 44 FINAL
Purdue 69
Campbell 63 FINAL
Stetson 76
Jacksonville St 70 FINAL
Charleston Southern 43
Louisiana 64 FINAL
Alcorn State 57
Denver 63 FINAL
Wright State 72
Blue Mountain 30 FINAL
Central Arkansas 71
Texas State 51 FINAL
Bethune-Cookman 40
Albany 62 FINAL
Pepperdine 36
TX-San Antonio 53 FINAL
Houston 56
Yale 66 FINAL
Bucknell 73
Northern Colorado 56 FINAL
Fla Gulf Coast 69
Belmont 74 2nd Half 3:25
Mercer 73
Massachusetts 59 2nd Half 3:56
Georgia State 59
George Mason 55 2nd Half 4:07
Winthrop 42
Portland State 23 2nd Half 15:52
Princeton 72
UCLA 26 1st Half 5:56
Samford 14
Mobile 7 1st Half 3:35
Alabama State 32
Toledo 5:30 PM
Nevada
Nicholls 3 1st Half 16:15
Texas Tech 8
UMass Lowell 0 1st Half 20:00
(13) Duke 0
St Marys-CA 6:00 PM
Virginia
McNeese State 6:00 PM
Rice
McMurry 6:00 PM
Houston Baptist
NJIT 6:00 PM
Seton Hall
(6) North Carolina 6:00 PM
Maine
Lafayette 6:00 PM
Stony Brook
Siena 6:00 PM
Binghamton
Longwood 6:00 PM
Clemson
Savannah State 6:00 PM
Florida State
(19) Syracuse 6:00 PM
(9) Baylor
Buffalo 6:00 PM
Manhattan
Ohio U 6:00 PM
La Salle
Canisius 6:00 PM
Michigan
Davidson 6:00 PM
NC State
Northern Ky 6:00 PM
Delaware
Saint Louis 6:30 PM
Austin Peay
(25) DePaul 6:30 PM
(2) Connecticut
Florida Atlantic 7:00 PM
Long Beach St
Miami-Florida 7:00 PM
Tulane
Miss Valley St 7:00 PM
Memphis
Ark-Pine Bluff 7:00 PM
UAB
Bowling Green 7:05 PM
Illinois State
Arkansas State 7:05 PM
Missouri State
ULM 7:05 PM
Wichita State
(16) Oregon State 8:00 PM
Southern Ill
Utah Valley U 8:30 PM
Montana
Pacific 9:00 PM
New Mexico St
No Dakota State 9:00 PM
Cal State Fullerton
Utah State 9:00 PM
Sacramento St
Bethesda (CA) 9:00 PM
Fresno State
LSU 9:30 PM
UC Santa Barbara
Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters

ADVERTISEMENT

<
Gophers Football Time W L Score
2014 season     
Aug 28 - vs. E. Illinois 6 pmX42-20
Sep 6 - vs. M. Tennessee St. 2:30 pmX35-24
Sep 13 - at TCU 3 pmX30-7
Sep 20 - vs. San Jose St. 3 p.m.X24-7
Sep 27 - at Michigan 2:30 pmX30-14
Oct 11 - vs. Northwestern 11 amX24-17
Oct 18 - vs. Purdue 11 amX39-38
Oct 25 - at Illinois 11 amX28-24
Nov 8 - vs. Iowa 11 amX51-14
Nov 15 - vs. Ohio State 11 amX31-24
Nov 22 - at Nebraska 11 amX28-24
Nov 29 - at Wisconsin 2:30 pmX34-24
Jan 1 - vs. Missouri noon

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

question of the day

Poll: How much do you like the Gophers going to the Citrus Bowl?

Weekly Question

ADVERTISEMENT

 
Close