There was no major announcement for it. Gophers coach Tubby Smith chose, instead, to off-handedly disclose in a quick postgame conference, that he’s shaking up his starting five, right before Big Ten play.

Andre Hollins was the starting point guard. Then, in the three-guard lineup with Julian Welch, his role got a little fuzzier. Then Hollins turned an ankle.

Enter Maverick Ahanmisi: who has been starting in Hollins’ place for the past three games, and looking like he belongs. So much so, in fact, that Smith decided he does.

“He’ll be in the starting lineup if that’s what you’re asking,” Smith said when a reporter asked a question about how Ahanmisi’s role is changing. “Andre – he’s fine. That’s the way it goes. He’ll play the minutes that we choose for him to play in the way we choose for him to play. If that’s starting, it’s starting, if it’s coming off the bench, it’s coming off the bench. He’s ready to play, don’t get me wrong. I thought he played great tonight – other than not making shots, I thought he played solid.

“But what am I going to do? I’m not taking Maverick out of the lineup.”

Rarely is Smith that blunt and not often does he change his mind so quickly. But clearly the sophomore has impressed him.

In the last two games Ahanmisi …

  • Has scored at least 10 points
  • Has had three assists
  • Has had two or fewer turnovers
  • Has had at least three rebounds

Perhaps the biggest benefit of Ahanmisi is that he knows the system well, and looks comfortable on the floor. Thursday, he was particularly keyed in, scoring 13, turning over just once and adding three steals. His seven consecutive points down the stretch were huge in helping Minnesota hold on to a tenuous lead.

If he was the proverbial aspirin for Smith’s admittedly racing heart and buckling knees, it’s no wonder the coach was ready to crown him the new starter.

“Maverick – thank god he was on tonight and playing well,” Smith said.

Now he’s ready to test him against the Big Ten.