Minnesota coach Richard Pitino called the momentary defensive collapse at the end of Saturday’s 74-68 loss at Indiana a “freshman moment” with three first-year players plus a sophomore and a senior in the game.
The Gophers -- who play at Northwestern on Thursday -- were trailing just 68-67 with 37 seconds to go after Nate Mason missed a three-pointer. What Minnesota needed next was a big stop to avoid losing momentum and get another chance at retaking the lead.
Instead, the players slowed to a walk, seemingly forgetting to run back on defense. Indiana guard Yogi Ferrell, in response, pushed the ball up the court and snapped it to Thomas Bryant, who finished a layup to pad the Hoosiers’ lead to three.
“Our three freshmen did not get back in transition because they thought [Indiana was] going to walk the ball up the court,” Pitino said. “And they had a bigtime freshmen moment. They just let Yogi come up the court and they made a layup.”
Pitino said he didn’t think it was fatigue but rather that the players didn’t use their heads in the moment. He was comfortable with the shot selection down the stretch, he said, but “they just didn’t make shots.”
One thing he might have been less thrilled about was the senior moment, when Joey King switched on a ball screen that he wasn’t supposed to switch on, giving Mason less room to get a shot off. Mason’s miss was one of four three-pointers that bounced away in the last 37 seconds. But King’s mistake was followed up by another sign that while his freshmen are still learning, they’re also starting to take control of what will be “their” team for the foreseeable future.
“Joey was not supposed to switch,” Pitino said, “and Dupree got on him. That was great to see. A freshman getting on a senior captain was really nice to see. Not from a demonstrative way, but he’s really starting to take ownership of it.”
Ahmad Gilbert is expected to start practicing again next week after missing the last four games with a dislocated finger on his left hand.
Pitino said that Gilbert got his brace and cast removed on Tuesday and will be evaluated further when the team returns from Northwestern.
Gilbert injured the finger diving for a loose ball in the opening seconds of a Jan. 16 home game against Indiana. He had surgery the following day. Gilbert had just breached the starting lineup when he was hurt, playing in the first five for two games.
“We’ll… see where he goes,” Pitino said.
Freshman Kevin Dorsey is coming off the best game of his career, when he put up 21 points and led one of the Gophers’ best offensive attacks of the season at Indiana.
But Pitino said it’s still “one day at a time” in terms of his trust in the speedy guard.
Pitino has criticized Dorsey’s decision-making this year and has called him “too risky.” The Maryland native has also gotten into troubles because of his slight size, just skimming six feet.
Saturday might have been largely beneficial for both sides. On Wednesday, Dorsey accredited the game toward building his confidence and helping him getting into “a better flow.” He said he hopes to play with more freedom going forward.
For Pitino, however, it might have the control, rather, that was most impressive. In 29 minutes, Dorsey didn’t have a single turnover, the third time in Big Ten play he’s put up a goose egg in that column.
“We’re not there yet but last game definitely helped,” Pitino said. “He’s got to do it in practice. He’s progressing. He makes some mistakes that hurt us a little bit but last game certainly was a step in the right direction.”
Dorsey also said he’s finally feeling more sure-footed on the court after rehabbing a bruised heel sustained on Dec. 16 against Chicago State – the Gophers’ last win. Dorsey missed just one game, at home against Milwaukee, with the injury, but he hinted on Wednesday that some discomfort lingered.
“I think the injury had me on the edge about certain things, certain moves, stuff like that,” he said. “Me thinking about that really slowed me down. But I’m 100 percent healthy now and I think I’m going to be able to affect the game in different ways.”