Richard Pitino played every available player – plus walk-on Stephen Sharp for three minutes in the first half -- except for redshirt junior Charles Buggs in Saturday’s 62-60 loss to Oklahoma State in Sioux Falls.

But afterward, the coach was cryptic if not downright dismissive when asked about the reasoning.

Is Buggs hurt?

“No.”

Is he going through some disciplinary issue?

“No.”

Did he go into Saturday planning not to play him?

“No,” Pitino replied. “Just happened that way. I just played the guys that would help us win the game.

“You can’t play everybody, so you’ve got to look at all different options. Doesn’t mean he won’t play the next game. I played the guys that I thought would put us in the best possible spot to win the game.”

Sure, you can’t play everyone all the time, but considering Pitino played little-used freshman Ahmad Gilbert – who is supposed to be directly behind Buggs on the depth chart – and a walk-on, it’s a little hard to take that seriously.

The bigger statement, most likely, is that he “played the guys that would help us win the game.” Buggs has had some strong moments this year. He’s also made some bad mistakes defensively and displayed some poor decision-making. I think Pitino questions his competitiveness and drive at times.

Hiccups like those kept him out of the entire second half of the previous game, an 84-70 loss to South Dakota State. Saturday, he never got off the pine.

The reasoning sounded similar to language Pitino started using about graduated center Elliott Eliason last year. I think Pitino decided Eliason was the player he was already and senior or not, he stopped seeing the value in putting him on the floor.

Buggs, on the other hand, is going on three years of chances to prove he’s above the spaced-out blunders he has invariably made. He has the length, natural athleticism and improved rebounding ability to help the Gophers this season, but it’s up to Pitino to decide whether those contributions outweigh any liability.

Of course, it’s early. Saturday’s benching might not mean anything in the big picture. Sometimes there ARE disciplinary issues or player-coach squabbles or academic struggles or whatever that coaches simply don’t want to tell the media about.

Perhaps Buggs will be back on the court Wednesday vs. Chicago State like nothing ever happened. But Saturday wasn’t a fluke – simply forgetting one of your starters on the bench for a full 40 minutes just doesn’t happen.

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