This is Amelia Rayno's third season on the Gophers men's basketball beat. She learned college basketball in North Carolina (Go Tar Heels!), where fanhood is not an option. In 2010, she joined the Star Tribune after graduating from Boston's Emerson College, which sadly had no exciting D-I college hoops to latch onto. Amelia has also worked on the sports desk at the Boston Globe and interned at the Detroit News.Follow Rayno on Twitter @AmeliaRayno
Tubby Smith wasn’t in on it.
Apparently, this is just the Gophers coach’s reaction to a much-needed win, some locker room fun and, hey, a catchy song.
In the locker room video that’s gone viral, Smith appeared to instigate a dance party to Ke$ha’s “Die Young,” a meaningful song based on the matchup.
Smith led with a nice solo breakdown, which was promptly followed by an excited team jumping and dancing.
“He surprised me,” Andre Hollins said. I didn’t know what was going on.”
Smith had been giving his postgame talk when assistant coach Vince Taylor yelled “Hit it,” Hollins said.
The head coach took off immediately shimmying side to side to the glee of his players.
“You don’t really see that side of coach too often, so when it happened, I think everybody was kind of shocked, so everybody just kind of went a little crazy in there with him,” Rodney Williams said.
Trevor Mbakwe took it a step further, lifting his coach off the ground and THROWING HIM OVER HIS SHOULDER IN A FIREMAN’S CARRY.
When I asked Smith whether Donna (his wife) got nervous when she saw that in the video, Smith shook his head.
“I freaked out,” he said. “That’s what I was more concerned -- that he would drop me on my head or something. But he’s a pretty strong guy!”
Said Williams: “We like to see coach happy like that, and in order to see him happy like that, we’ve got to keep winning. So, we’re going to come in every day with the same mindset, we’re going to come in like we’re on a losing streak to work every day. We’re just going to keep coming going out there and playing hard so maybe you guys will get a couple more videos of coach dancing.”
Other notes from tonight’s access:
Monday’s win over Michigan State was a big one for the Gophers and a significant momentum boost going forward. Certainly, it was just one game – one of 18 in the Big Ten that should be mostly challenging the whole way. But with a victory over better competition (excepting Duke) than the Gophers have played all season, there was plenty to garner from their biggest test since challenging the Blue Devils in the Bahamas.
In the next few weeks, a lot can change – but for now, these are three truths we learned about this Minnesota team from the Michigan State win:
This team is tough. As I told Paul Allen today on KFAN, the thing that maybe impressed me the most about the Gophers in this game is that they matched the intensity and physicality of Michigan State – a team renowned for its grit. The Spartans’ came in ranked No. 1 in the conference in scoring defense and field goal percentage defense, and yet the Gophers plowed into the post time and time again, shot 63 percent from the field and out-rebounded a team that has been very good in that regard – holding MSU to 32 boards. Only Kansas and Boise State have held the Spartans to fewer rebounds, and the Spartans had their worst effort of the year on defensive boards (with 16). Just as notable was the mental toughness the Gophers exhibited, coming back from a Michigan State lead late on going on their best run of the game at the very end.
The Gophers have lots of depth, but they don’t always need to use it. The bench helped out Minnesota plenty in the first half when the starters were clearly tired. The second group came in and gave the team a little spark, led by Oto Osenieks, who has looked pretty solid in his last couple games after a really slow start to the season. But that was mostly against MSU’s reserves. When the Spartans starters returned, the Gophers bench struggled, and with the game on the line, coach Tubby Smith barely played the reserves at all in the second half (Julian Welch, Andre Ingram, Elliott Eliason and Maverick Ahanmisi each got a handful of minutes). In years past, Smith has sometimes relied very heavily on the bench, even as it was getting pounded. Perhaps his decision to stick mostly with his first five on Monday was an indication of his trust in the bunch, more than he’s had in his teams in the past. In any case, Dre Hollins and crew lived up to the challenge and shut down the Spartans mostly on their own.
There are still flaws. The Gophers made just two of six shots from three-point range, made only 13 of 22 free throw attempts and had a disturbing barrage of turnovers, particularly at the start of the second half. Minnesota still looks lost against zone defenses and can be forced out of its game and into silly mistakes (in-bounding the ball, anyone?) when up against it. In other words, there are still plenty of blemishes with this team. Another way of looking at it: the Gophers had a good win, and they weren’t even playing their best. In any case, if Minnesota wants to continue this success, it’s got to clean these things up. The competition will only get stiffer …
Just a few notes from tonight’s Gophers media access:
• The Gophers coaching staff will likely make a decision on whether to redshirt freshman Wally Ellenson before tomorrow night’s game, Tubby Smith said tonight. Smith sat down and discussed the options with Ellenson today, he said, but wants to speak with his family before announcing anything.
• Smith again reiterated tonight one of the reasons he likes Trevor Mbakwe coming off the bench for the Gophers. “We can go to the bench and actually maybe elevate our play when you bring in a Trevor or you bring in a Julian Welch, because they’re both veteran, physical players,” Smith said. “That’s a real benefit for us, and that’s our strength right now – we have to play to our strength.”
• Rodney Williams on the team’s ascent to No. 13 in the AP poll, which is where they landed today (one up from last week): “It’s definitely a good feeling. We know how good that we are and now other people are starting to notice it, so it’s definitely a good feeling.”
• Williams said he doesn’t know when scouts are in the stands watching him play – and he’d like to keep it that way. “I’ve heard, the coaches have told me afterward that there were people in the stands, but I don’t want to go out there with that on my mind because then I probably won’t play to my potential. I just want to go out there with a free mind, just go out there and play and have fun.
UPDATE: this is me admitting I was wrong, below. Majerus was not counted in the original listing, and I figured out which I missed (Jerry Slocum, Youngstown St.). I added him in below.
Gophers coach Tubby Smith joined elite company on Saturday, getting his 500th career win in a 71-57 victory over USC.
Smith is actually the 18th active Division I coach to reach that plateau (Media has been reporting he’s the 19th, but after wracking my brain and wracking the internet’s brain, I figured out that the late Rick Majerus was likely counted in that list. Please correct me if I am wrong).
Here’s the list of the remaining active coaches with at least 500 wins that I compiled, in no particular order. It was actually rather stunning to me that this list didn’t exist already, at least not that I could find.
John Calipari (Kentucky)
Jim Boeheim (Syracuse)
Mike Krzyzewski (Duke)
Rick Pitino (Louisville)
Roy Williams (UNC)
Bo Ryan (Wisconsin)
Bob Huggins (West Virginia)
John Beilein (Michigan)
Stew Morrill (Utah State)
Mike Montgomery (California)
Rick Barnes (Texas)
Lon Kruger (Oklahoma)
Larry Hunter (Western Carolina)
Rick Byrd (Belmont)
Cliff Ellis (Coastal Carolina)
Ben Braun (Rice)
Dave Bike (Sacred Heart)
Jerry Slocum (Youngstown St.)
Quotes from Smith and players after the milestone:
“You’re so in the moment and it’s a journey, so you don’t even look at it. Somebody tells me, and that’s when I recognize it’s 500. But it’s good to be with this group, to be a part of it because I think they’re a great group of kids, a great group to coach, there’s always a challenge with any group, but this group is a very committed group. They have good chemistry. So it’s fun to coach.
“It’s all about longevity, for all of us and I think every coach would tell you that. I’ve had the opportunity to be with good programs like Tulsa, Georgia, Kentucky and here at Minnesota and I’ve been exposed to some programs that have been very committed to their basketball programs and their coaches – that’s the beauty of being at this level and not everybody has that opportunity.
“You can’t win without good players and I know I’ve had good players over the years everywhere I’ve been. All those guys are the reason. As I’ve said I haven’t made a shot since 1979, so this is all about the young men that we’ve had the chance to teach and coach.”
"This is a huge one for his career. 500 wins – how many coaches have done that? ... He’s in the history books. That just shows how good of a coach he is, how good of a person he is to transfer over to us being a winning basketball team."
"It definitely felt good to help coach get that 500th win. He’s a guy that’s been around the college basketball game for a long time and he’s well-respected around the league and every day we just want to come out and play for him and make him look good."
For more on how the win was won, check out my game story from last night here.
This is a different year than last year. This year, when Rodney Williams scores just two points in a game (vs. South Dakota State), it’s forgotten about almost instantly.
And when Williams has perhaps the best night of his season one game later, it’s not a sigh or relief or even much of a storyline.
Rodney Williams has become the picture of consistency and leadership for the Gophers – so much so that we’ve come to expect it, and Williams himself gets caught off-guard at his own achievements.
Against USC tonight, Williams finished with 13 points and 11 rebounds, his first double-double of the year. Afterward, he didn’t even realize it.
“Oh -- I didn’t even know I had a double-double,” he said, reacting to the question. “Finally!”
But while Williams feins great impatience for the stat, he’s in fact looking and acting and playing more comfortable than ever.
And that has been a big part of why the Gophers – moving to 10-1 on Saturday – have been so successful so far.
Other notes on tonight’s game:
• Who got to watch this matchup tonight? I know a lot of people were struggling with the almost non-existent TV availability, so I tried to tweet a little more than normal during the game.
• Tubby Smith got win No. 500 tonight. He’s the 19th active coach to do so.
• The Gophers had four players finish in double digits (Williams, Andre Hollins, 14; Trevor Mbakwe, 12 and Joe Coleman; 10) and three more with six or more, looking like the balanced offense they’ve been all year.
• The Gophers had plenty of challenges inside, going up against 7-2 center Omar Oraby, who didn’t score in the first half but really paced USC in the second with 15. Mbakwe got knocked down a couple of times, but battled well. “That was definitely a struggle for us,” Williams said. “You saw the big man get going a little bit in the second half, but we’ll probably face teams like that later on in the season, so that’s good for us to go in and get beat up a little bit by some 7-footers … it’s good to get the practice in.”
• Mo Walker didn’t play all game – Smith said afterward it was just a matchup issue and “that’s going to happen sometimes.” Walker played just seven minutes against South Dakota State.
• Mbakwe said at this point he feels like he is 100 percent. His knee gets “stiff” after practice sometimes, but not sore, he said. He said his doctors have told him he should be able to take off his brace within the next month.
• The Gophers hit five three pointers in the first half, but slowed the effort in the second, making just one.
• Once again, the zone slowed up the Gophers considerably. They started to break through it some in the second half, but it’s still clearly an area that needs work. “That’s one thing we have to know how to attack the gaps – that’s a big thing,” Andre Hollins said. “Just attacking the gaps and making them play us. We were playing on the outside of them and not being aggressive.”
• After tonight, the Gophers play again on Tuesday, and then are off for an 11-day break.
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