Playing one game in 19 days can be looked at two ways: as much needed rest and opportunities for tinkering – or as a chance for a hot, 11-1 team to cool down.

But for this team, I think the break is welcomed: both as a chance to renew themselves and as an opportunity to get more specific in their practices.

Gophers coach Tubby Smith said that during the off-time so far, the team has been mostly working on basic fundamentals and going over offensive plays and defensive schemes. But the staff has been able to work more thoroughly with individual players as well on things that each need help with.

“We’ve played 12 games already, so it was always game preparation and not a whole lot of drill work,” Smith said. “So we’ve spent some time in the last couple days working on individual fundamentals for each player.”

Smith noted in particular that the break so far has been beneficial for Mo Walker – who has only played 16 minutes in the last three games and has struggled to keep up with the up-tempo squad – and freshman Wally Ellenson, who played for the first time a week ago against North Dakota State after having his redshirt pulled.

“He’s been looking good in practice and doing some things,” Smith said. “He didn’t really get any practices in hardly up until he got his cast off and his hand healed. Now he’s playing better.”

Other notes from today’s media access:

  • Ellenson looked nervous – and rightfully so – in his first appearance last Tuesday, but that initial outing was good for him, Smith said. “He’s learning to play,” he said. “He missed all that time so he’s still trying to grasp offense and our defense. He knows it pretty well but he’s just kind of a natural, he’s just a very gifted athlete and he’ll continue to get his strength and get his wind and that just takes getting on the court and getting minutes. But he probably does have a bounce in his step. His legs are alive and he’s playing extremely well in practice.”
  • Austin Hollins pulled a muscle in his groin against USC on Dec. 7th and Smith said the guard has been limited in practices. Hollins downplayed the injury, saying he fine. “He’s a tough kid,” Smith said.
  • Trevor Mbakwe said he hopes to get his brace taken off in the next few week, and that he and the team will be experimenting with how much he can play without it in the meantime. “We’re going to start taking it day by day – some practices going without it and just taking small steps of not playing with it,” he said. “I’m excited to get it over with. I know a lot of people are always concerned when I’m reaching on it and pulling it back during games.”
  • Asked how badly he wanted to start considering his competitive personality, Mbakwe paused a beat, but responded: “I don’t know about starting, I just want the minutes. I’m happy with where I’m at. It’s not something – I don’t care much about starting. Coach always says you want to be the guy that’s in the last five minutes of the game, that’s who you trust and I’d rather be in the last five minutes of the game rather than starting the first five and being that second wave type of guy. That’s more my goal.


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