LINCOLN — The more that Minnesota men’s basketball coach Tubby Smith has shortened his playing rotation, the bigger an impact Elliott Eliason has had.
The 6-foot-11, 260-pound sophomore out of Chadron will face Nebraska on Wednesday night after two recent good showings.
In 28 minutes against Iowa, Eliason had four points, four rebounds, four blocks and four assists. Then in 14 minutes against Indiana, he had seven points and five rebounds in a key stretch during the Gophers’ upset of the then-No. 1 Hoosiers.
“Elliott has been invaluable,” Minnesota assistant Vince Taylor said. “You know the old saying, ‘You can’t teach them to be 7-foot.’
“And when he comes in, he gives us energy. He takes up space. He’s an excellent passer. He’s really helped us turn these last three or four games around, especially against Indiana. We feel real confident when he comes in.”
Eliason held a scholarship offer from the Huskers under Doc Sadler, but eventually signed with Minnesota.
Nebraska coach Tim Miles also knows Eliason. He tried to recruit him to Colorado State, getting a campus visit from him and current Gopher teammate Joe Coleman.
“Elliott is a first-class kid,” Miles said. “You can’t find a better guy. He’s a wonderful kid and a really good player. He’s a good passer and he does everything Coach Smith wants him to do. He’s been an impressive guy.”
Overall, in 13.7 minutes a game, Eliason averages 2.0 points, 3.6 rebounds, 1.1 blocks and 1.0 assists.
With Minnesota having cut back to using primarily seven players lately, Eliason has been the main frontcourt substitute as the Gophers (20-9, 8-8) have won three of their past five games to get back in NCAA tournament contention.
“We like what he does,” Taylor said. “He can score inside. He blocks shots. He doesn’t even have to jump being 7-foot. And he can run the floor.
“He has been a crucial component for us this season, and for the next two or three years his upside is strong. We’ve got a lot of basketball to play, and Elliott is going to be a very important part of that.”
Former Husker stars Dave Hoppen, Eric Piatkowski and Erick Strickland will sign autographs Wednesday from 7 to 7:45 p.m. before the final NU men’s basketball game at Devaney Center.
Other events at the 8 p.m. game against Minnesota, which also is Senior Night for Brandon Ubel, Dylan Talley and Andre Almeida:
>> Presentation to the Devaney family and a video tribute.
>> Introduction of the All-Devaney Center team, as voted on by fans.
>> Free Devaney Legends poster to the first 10,000.
>> Throwback concession prices of $1 for popcorn and 24-ounce soft drinks.
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