It didn't seem that long ago when Richard Pitino was frustrated that the Gophers just didn't have enough frontcourt depth to compete inside on a nightly basis.
Now Pitino has one of the program's deepest frontcourts in years.
Adding Reggie Lynch and Eric Curry to the frontcourt mix has taken a lot of pressure off Jordan Murphy to make a huge jump right away from last year’s All-Big Ten freshman season. Lynch, Curry and Murphy combined for 37 points, 24 rebounds and five blocks in Monday's 84-67 win against Texas-Arlington at Williams Arena.
“We got a long way to go,” Pitino said. “But this is not last year’s team. It’s a totally different team with much more balance and depth. …It’s a fun team to coach.”
The Mavericks are projected to win the Sun Belt Conference and make the NCAA tournament this season. So this win could be one of the best on Minnesota's resume when it's all said and done. It could have easily turned out differently when UT-Arlington led 41-35 at halftime.
But the Gophers won the rebounding margin 47-32, which included scoring 22 points on 15 offensive rebounds. They also shot 30-for-40 from the foul line, including 17-for-18 shooting from Murphy (7-for-8), Curry (6-for-6) and Lynch (4-for-4). Good luck trying the Hack-a-Shaq approach at the end of games this season with Minnesota’s big men. That kind of shooting from the free-throw line could’ve won the Gophers a lot more close games last season.
“I thought our guys were pretty composed at halftime,” Pitino said. “I just thought they really grew from a rebounding standpoint. We’ve never really put on a rebounding performance like that. And we did a really good job getting them in foul trouble.”
-- The Gophers have scored 80-plus points in their first two games for the first time since the 2009-10 season, when they started 4-0 and were ranked in the top 25 after upsetting No. 10 Butler.
-- Murphy recorded the 10th double-double of his career and first this season. He grabbed nine rebounds in the second half Monday.
-- Curry had a season-best 12 points on 3-for-5 shooting from the field. The 6-foot-9 freshman played 27 minutes for the second straight game. His emergence has made Pitino shy away from playing juniors Bakary Konate and Gaston Diedhiou, who were the team's only two centers last season.