Read my game story on tonight's 65-44 win here.
Everyone knows the saying: Happy wife, happy life.
Maybe the Gophers have found a similar motto, one that involves a happy coach.
New coach Richard Pitino is hesitant to say the Minnesota team he inherited has a better outlook now than it did at the beginning of the season. But in one way, the Gophers have certainly exceeded expectations, he said: with their hard work and dedication on the practice court.
Pitino has cited practices a lot lately, noting that they just keep getting better. It was particularly notable, he said, over Christmas break. The players returned for a Christmas Day practice, one the head coach was concerned about given the circumstances and the long layoff.
"I can't remember back-to-back bad practices," Pitino said. "Probably we've had two total bad practices. And every time, you know, me as a negative coach, I'm saying 'Oh, we're going to have a bad practice today,' and they've had great practices.
"Christmas Day I thought was going to be awful. It was one of our best practices. Then we went doubles the next day. And our morning practice was great and I said 'Alright we're going to be terrible in the afternoon,' and it was better than the [first] one.
"These guys have got substance, they've got character. And that's got to be what we rally around. We've got to totally hang our hat on that."
The dedication showed on Saturday, with the Gophers playing one of their best defensive games of the year -- holding Texas A&M Corpus Christi to 35.4 percent shooting from the field, 6.7 percent shooting from three-point range and forcing 18 turnovers. Minnesota didn't have a great offensive game -- shooting just 37.3 percent from the field and missing ten free throws, but the Gophers were able to cruise to a victory with strong performances from Andre Hollins (18 points, three rebounds) and Austin Hollins (13 points, eight rebounds, three assists) and by their work on the other end of the court.
"The past three days have been our best practices, really intense," Andre Hollins said. "We've picked it up defensively and I think we had a really good defensive effort tonight."
Much of that intensity in practice comes from within -- the players buying into the idea that they have a long ways to go, and their willingness to put in the time to get there. Pitino helps seal the message with reminders of their goals and their shortcomings.
"He let's us know over and over again that we can be beat," Mathieu said. "He told us today that if we didn't have an awesome performance he was going to be really upset, and we didn't want him upset. So we just come out and play hard and make sure coach isn't upset."
What happens when coach is upset?
"Happy Pitino -- a lot more jokes, a lot more smiling a little bit," Mathieu said. "Upset Pitino -- No jokes, no smiling, everything sets him off. We like him happy."
So far, the Gophers are doing their best to keep him that way, giving their max effort in Pitino's drills.
"We've got great kids and 99 percent of the time they've stepped on the court, they've tried to get better," Pitino said. "Year one, those are my expectations, so they've probably exceeded that."
Other notes from tonight's win:
*Redshirt freshman Charles Buggs was in street clothes tonight after spraining his left ankle earlier in the week. "I pumped him up and then the next possession, he sprained his ankle," Pitino said. "Hopefully he'll be ready to go [for practice] on Monday. He's shown some growth, which is good to see."
*With Louisville's loss at Kentucky tonight, Richard Pitino and dad, Cardinals coach Rick Pitino, end the non-conference slate with the same 11-2 record. But there would be no comparing on Saturday night, the younger Pitino noted. "I'm not going to text him tonight -- I can promise you that," he said. "I'll give him like a week then I'll text him."
*Austin Hollins had a couple more nasty dunks tonight. Here is one of them, an alley oop from Mathieu.