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

NY Mets - LP: J. Familia 6 FINAL
Miami - WP: A. Ramos 9
Philadelphia - WP: C. Hamels 7 FINAL
Atlanta - LP: J. Teheran 0
Boston - LP: B. Badenhop 3 FINAL
Tampa Bay - WP: G. Balfour 4
Minnesota - WP: P. Hughes 6 FINAL
Baltimore - LP: K. Gausman 4
Pittsburgh - LP: G. Cole 4 FINAL
St. Louis - WP: S. Maness 5
Milwaukee - LP: J. Nelson 2 FINAL
Chicago Cubs - WP: J. Turner 4
Detroit - WP: D. Price 12 FINAL
Cleveland - LP: C. Kluber 1
Seattle - LP: C. Young 1 FINAL
Oakland - WP: J. Hammel 6
San Francisco - WP: J. Affeldt 4 FINAL
Colorado - LP: C. Friedrich 2
Arizona - LP: T. Cahill 1 FINAL
San Diego - WP: T. Ross 3
San Francisco - LP: S. Romo 9 FINAL
Colorado - WP: L. Hawkins 10
Washington 6 Bottom 8th Inning
Los Angeles 3
Texas - LP: C. Lewis 3 FINAL
Kansas City - WP: Y. Ventura 4
Green Bay 9/4/14 7:30 PM
Seattle
Buffalo 9/7/14 12:00 PM
Chicago
New Orleans 9/7/14 12:00 PM
Atlanta
Minnesota 9/7/14 12:00 PM
St. Louis
Cleveland 9/7/14 12:00 PM
Pittsburgh
Jacksonville 9/7/14 12:00 PM
Philadelphia
Oakland 9/7/14 12:00 PM
NY Jets
Cincinnati 9/7/14 12:00 PM
Baltimore
Washington 9/7/14 12:00 PM
Houston
Tennessee 9/7/14 12:00 PM
Kansas City
New England 9/7/14 12:00 PM
Miami
Carolina 9/7/14 3:25 PM
Tampa Bay
San Francisco 9/7/14 3:25 PM
Dallas
Indianapolis 9/7/14 7:30 PM
Denver
Utah State 7 FINAL
Tennessee 38
SMU 0 FINAL
(10) Baylor 45
Miami-Florida 13 4th Qtr 12:26
Louisville 24
Arizona 9/4/14 7:00 PM
TX-San Antonio
Pittsburgh 9/5/14 6:00 PM
Boston College
Washington St 9/5/14 9:30 PM
Nevada
SMU 9/6/14 11:00 AM
North Texas
Fla Atlantic 9/6/14 11:00 AM
(2) Alabama
Buffalo 9/6/14 11:00 AM
Army
(24) Missouri 9/6/14 11:00 AM
Toledo
Arkansas State 9/6/14 11:00 AM
Tennessee
(7) McNeese State 9/6/14 11:00 AM
(22) Nebraska
Central Mich 9/6/14 11:00 AM
Purdue
Akron 9/6/14 11:00 AM
Penn State
Western Ill 9/6/14 11:00 AM
(14) Wisconsin
(20) Kansas State 9/6/14 11:00 AM
Iowa State
(4) Oklahoma 9/6/14 11:00 AM
Tulsa
Western Ky 9/6/14 11:00 AM
Illinois
SC State 9/6/14 11:30 AM
(16) Clemson
Navy 9/6/14 12:00 PM
Temple
UAB 9/6/14 1:00 PM
Miss State
South Alabama 9/6/14 1:00 PM
Kent State
New Mexico St 9/6/14 1:00 PM
Georgia State
Colorado 9/6/14 2:00 PM
Massachusetts
Fresno State 9/6/14 2:00 PM
Utah
(2) Eastern Wash 9/6/14 2:00 PM
(25) Washington
(15) USC 9/6/14 2:30 PM
(11) Stanford
Ohio U 9/6/14 2:30 PM
Kentucky
Middle Tennessee 9/6/14 2:30 PM
Minnesota
Northern Ill 9/6/14 2:30 PM
Northwestern
Missouri State 9/6/14 2:30 PM
Oklahoma State
Ball State 9/6/14 2:30 PM
Iowa
Maryland 9/6/14 2:30 PM
So Florida
Eastern Mich 9/6/14 3:00 PM
Florida
Georgia Tech 9/6/14 3:00 PM
Tulane
(18) Ole Miss 9/6/14 3:30 PM
Vanderbilt
Old Dominion 9/6/14 5:00 PM
NC State
(8) Michigan State 9/6/14 5:30 PM
(3) Oregon
(19) Arizona State 9/6/14 6:00 PM
New Mexico
Louisiana Tech 9/6/14 6:00 PM
Louisiana
San Jose St 9/6/14 6:00 PM
(6) Auburn
East Carolina 9/6/14 6:00 PM
(9) So Carolina
Duke 9/6/14 6:00 PM
Troy
Idaho 9/6/14 6:00 PM
ULM
(15) Sam Houston St 9/6/14 6:30 PM
(13) LSU
Michigan 9/6/14 6:30 PM
(17) Notre Dame
Lamar 9/6/14 6:30 PM
(21) Texas A&M
Northwestern St 9/6/14 6:30 PM
(10) Baylor
BYU 9/6/14 6:30 PM
Texas
Citadel 9/6/14 6:30 PM
(1) Florida State
San Diego St 9/6/14 7:00 PM
(23) North Carolina
Virginia Tech 9/6/14 7:00 PM
(5) Ohio State
Memphis 9/6/14 9:00 PM
(7) UCLA
Colorado State 9/6/14 9:15 PM
Boise State
Air Force 9/6/14 9:15 PM
Wyoming
Oregon State 9/6/14 9:30 PM
Hawaii
Texas Tech 9/6/14 10:00 PM
Texas-El Paso
Ottawa 10 FINAL
Montreal 20
Winnipeg 30 FINAL
Saskatchewan 35
Toronto 12 FINAL
Hamilton 13
Edmonton 13 FINAL
Calgary 28
Indiana 84 FINAL
Chicago 86
Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters

ADVERTISEMENT

Date/Opponent Time W L Score
2014 season     
Aug 28 - vs. E. Illinois 6 pmX42-20
Sep 6 - vs. M. Tennessee St. 2:30 pm
Sep 13 - at TCU 3 pm
Sep 20 - vs. San Jose St. TBA
Sep 27 - at Michigan TBA
Oct 11 - vs. Northwestern TBA
Oct 18 - vs. Purdue 11 am
Oct 25 - at Illinois 11 am
Nov 8 - vs. Iowa TBA
Nov 15 - vs. Ohio State TBA
Nov 22 - at Nebraska TBA
Nov 29 - at Wisconsin TBA

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

question of the day

Poll: Grade the Gophers in their season opener

Weekly Question

ADVERTISEMENT

 
Close