Walker powers Gophers past Nebraska

Center Mo Walker had 19 points in the game, quieting his coach in the process.

Senior Forward Mo Walker maneuvers the ball at the Williams Arena where the Gophers took on Nebraska Saturday evening.

Liam James Doyle

Senior Forward Mo Walker maneuvers the ball at the Williams Arena where the Gophers took on Nebraska Saturday evening.

Jack Satzinger

Mo Walker couldn’t stop thinking about his stat line at Nebraska on Jan. 20: Four points, four fouls and three turnovers.

In practice last week, coach Richard Pitino kept reminding him.

“Coach has really been on me about it. He’s been making sly comments about it, but I try not to let it get under my skin,” Walker said.

Facing the same Nebraska team Saturday, Walker quieted his coach. The redshirt senior center racked up a game-high 19 points, eight rebounds, three steals and two blocks to power the Gophers past Nebraska 60-42.

“He was getting good position on certain things, but I thought more than anything he was really patient,” Pitino said of Walker.

While the final score may imply Minnesota (14-9, 3-7 Big Ten) dominated the game, most of the play at Williams Arena on Saturday night was downright ugly.

Behind stellar defense and horrific offense, the two teams combined for just 39 first-half points. The Gophers instituted their typical full-court press but played a zone defense in the half court that forced the Cornhuskers (12-9, 4-5 Big Ten) into 20 turnovers.

“They do a good job, just kind of getting you to race around a little bit, and we didn’t transition well from press to zone defense,” Nebraska coach Tim Miles said. “I tried to switch offenses in the first half, and that didn’t work very well.”

Minnesota was mired in a shooting slump in the first half. The Gophers went nearly five full minutes without scoring a field goal until Walker muscled his way down low for two points.

After jogging back on defense, Walker blocked a shot that triggered a DeAndre Mathieu circus layup over Terran Petteway’s outstretched arms to give Minnesota an 18-14 lead.

The Gophers led the rest of the way.

“Mo was very aggressive today. He was there defensively and offensively, and that’s what we need from him,” said senior guard Andre Hollins, who racked up 12 points, six assists and five rebounds. “Our defense gave us confidence on offense.”

With less than five minutes in the game, Nebraska went on a run that cut Minnesota’s lead to seven. That’s when Hollins fired a 3-pointer from the right wing with 2:37 remaining to get the lead back to 10 points.

On the next possession, freshman guard Nate Mason hit a wide open 3-pointer at the top of the key that put Minnesota up 13 and sent Hollins running to his side smiling and offering words of encouragement.

“I said, ‘You’ve got to keep shooting, man. You’ve got to keep shooting.’ He passed up some open shots,” Hollins said. “I told him, ‘You’ve got to shoot when you’re open. You’re a great shooter.’”

Earlier in the second half, Minnesota’s lead was down to four points when Walker put together a 3-point play, flexing and screaming after making the basket.

The Gophers don’t play until Feb. 7 against Purdue, but it’s safe to say Walker won’t have to tolerate any more teasing from Pitino in practice between now and then after the way he played Saturday.

“We knew they were going to play 1-on-1 in the post, and I just tried to be aggressive,” Walker said. “I tried to be efficient.”