Will we see a lot more of Julian Welch in the days ahead?
It seems that Gophers coach Tubby Smith has been searching for a role player to step in and take some of the weight of the point guard role from Andre Hollins' shoulders.
Smith started playing Hollins – who has been somewhat up and down offensively – more at shooting guard in the Indiana game, with Maverick Ahanmisi taking much of that role.
With Saturday being senior day, Julian Welch – who didn't play at all on Tuesday -- logically took that position at the beginning of the game, when Smith started all of his seniors, along with Austin Hollins.
But given the opportunity, Welch took full advantage, scoring the Gophers first five points on two jumpers to set the tone, and ultimately finishing with season highs in both points (10) and assists (7).
Smith hasn't played Welch a lot lately, due to his significant shooting struggles.
Since December 1, Welch has made just 37.7 percent of his attempts from the field, and his chances have quickly shrunk, especially in conference paly. In the last nine games, he's gotten more than seven minutes just three times. Tuesday, he didn't play at all.
Otherwise, I think Smith likes what Welch brings to the table a lot – he's solid defensively, and his ball handling is usually pretty steady as well. But the coach couldn't justify giving Welch a significant role if he wasn't going to add to the score. Ahanmisi, at least, will hit a few 3-pointers and do his job running the team.
Perhaps Smith's perspective on that changed some Saturday with Welch's solid performance -- one with no turnovers, either. It was likely meaningful for Welch to see the ball go in the basket as it did as well. A smooth outing is the quickest way to regain confidence and get over a slump.
After Saturday's game, Welch called it "a great feeling" to be able to produce the way he did, and said that Rodney Williams, Trevor Mbakwe and Austin Hollins helped to calm him down from the outset.
Will Welch be used more as the Gophers head down the final stretch? It's far too early to tell, but it was evident on Saturday that Smith had something to think about.
"It's just been hard for him to get into the lineup," Smith said. "It's always tough when you're a senior and a junior college transfer and the expectations were to play a lot more. But he showed a lot of character in stepping up today. I've got a lot more confidence in him now."
Just how much we will find out soon.