The most noticeable problem area for Seattle U in its Nov. 21 loss to Washington was the frontcourt, where the Huskies' centers and forwards proved more productive and simply more talented than the Redhawks' bigs.
Such was the case for SU (5-6) against Minnesota (9-2), whose interior rotation -- 6-foot-10 Maurice Walker, 6-11 Elliott Eliason, 6-11 Bakary Konate and 6-9 Charles Buggs -- displayed the difference between size with Big Ten talent and size with WAC talent; a gap widened even more by the fact that the Redhawks are without their best big man.
Seattle U recently learned that junior power forward Deshaun Sunderhaus, who missed the final 11 games of last season with a torn ACL in his left knee, will miss the rest of this season after suffering the same injury in Monday's win over Northwest University (NAIA).
Minus the 6-9 Sunderhaus, the Redhawks played just two true bigs on Friday. Six-foot-eleven junior center Jack Crook started on the front line alongside 6-6 forward William Powell, who's more of a wing, in a three-guard lineup. Crook played just 15 minutes, however. Six-foot-eleven redshirt freshman center Theo Turner came off the bench for 25 minutes. Senior forward Shore Adenekan, at 6-9 the Redhawks' best athlete among their bigs, did not play.
For the Gophers, Walker finished with 15 points, six rebounds and two blocks in a power-packed 15-minute cameo. Konate had nine points, eight boards and two blocks. Eliason added eight points and four rebounds, while Buggs had four points and three rebounds and the highlight of the night when he caught a fast-break alley-oop and converted a backwards dunk.
Two sequences crystallized the frontcourt mismatch:
* Late in the first half, Turner found himself open right under the basket. But by the time he got the ball and created separation from the oncoming Walker to shoot, Turner was now too far under the basket, seemingly unaware of his location and putting up a shot that hit the back of the backboard. On the ensuring possession, Walker calmly sized Turner up and used a quick first step to drive toward the hoop and draw a foul.
* In the second half, Crook tried to take Eliason to the hole from the high post, but never could get a step on him and was overpowered into releasing a bad shot. On the next possession, Eliason got the ball in the paint, absorbed a hard body-check from Crook, kept his balance and scored.
Another byproduct of Minnesota's dominance down low was that the defensive presence of their bigs led to the Redhawks settling for jump shots instead of attacking the rim. At one point in the first half, the Gophers had been to the free-throw line 13 times while SU still had zero free-throw attempts. (The Redhawks actually finished the game with just as many free-throw attempts, 23, as Minnesota.)
Tall trees in the paint combined with swarming hands and quick feet of Minnesota's perimeter defenders to keep SU's guards in check.
Senior point guard Isiah Umipig came into the game as the WAC's second-leading scorer (17.2 ppg) and No. 2 nationally in threes per game (4.2). He finished with 13 points on 4-of-10 shooting from the field and 3-of-8 from deep. Junior guard Jarell Flora, second on the team this season at 14.1 points per game, had six points and six turnovers against the Gophers.
Freshman point guard Jadon Cohee came off the bench to lead SU with 14 points. Powell had seven points and six rebounds.
Minnesota's top scorer was junior guard Carlos Morris, who had a season-high 19 points, while guards Andre Hollins and Nate Mason had 15 apiece. Point guard Deandre Mathieu had nine assists and six steals to lead a Minnesota squad that ranks No. 1 nationally in assists and No. 3 in steals.
* After playing in front of fewer than 300 fans in a rare on-campus home game on Monday, the Redhawks were greeted by a crowd 12,121 in Minneapolis.
* If you watched the game on the Big Ten Network, you caught the (unintentional?) comedy show of color commentator Jon Crispin.
After struggling to explain what he called a "chicken-egg argument" involving Minnesota's effort on defense and unselfishness on offense, Crispin sheepishly and yet proudly declared, "I'm from Jersey."
Later, on a questionable foul call, the former Penn State and UCLA player said, "You know why that's a foul? Because they blew the whistle and called it a foul."
* The Redhawks' next game is on Sunday at home (KeyArena) against Sacramento State.