The biggest question mark for the Gophers basketball team entering this season was outside shooting.
At least for one game, Minnesota showed it could be a better shooting team with 10 three-pointers in Friday's 86-74 opening win against Louisiana-Lafayette in front of 8,453 at Williams Arena.
The Ragin' Cajuns dared their Big Ten opponent to shoot from deep in the first half. Playing a tight zone turned out to be the wrong game plan. Richard Pitino's team made seven threes in the first half, and shot 10-for-25 (40 percent) from long distance on the night.
"I think when we take good shots, we are a good shooting team,” Pitino said. “I think we saw that tonight, and know we are confident when we move the ball. I think probably one of our better strengths is passing. I think we are a good passing team."
The Gophers finished with 17 assists on 27 field goals, led by Nate Mason’s seven assists. Mason and Dupree McBrayer tied with a team-best 15 points apiece. Mason (2-for-6) and McBrayer (3-for-5) and newcomers Akeem Springs (3-for-8) and Amir Coffey (2-for-3) all hit multiple three-pointers Friday.
Minnesota did not have a game last season where four players hit at least two three-pointers. In fact, the Gophers ranked last in the Big Ten and 310th out of 346 Division I basketball teams in three-point shooting percentage (31.0). That was the program’s worst season from beyond the arc since shooting 30.9 percent in 1990-91.
Joey King graduated, taking his 40 percent shooting on a team-best 59 threes last season. But there’s a chance Minnesota could be better with more than just one legitimate outside shooting threat.
The Gophers’ best shooter is arguably freshman Michael Hurt, but he went 0-for-2 from three Friday. That probably won’t happen too often this year.
Two of the biggest concerns from Friday’s opening win were rebounding and turnovers. UL-Lafayette’s best frontcourt player was only 6-foot-6, but Bryce Washington still finished with 16 points and 10 rebounds. The Ragin’ Cajun outrebounded a bigger Minnesota team 42-39, including 20 offensive rebounds.
The Gophers also had 19 turnovers, including 12 turnovers from their starters. Mason and Coffey had four each. It might not have cost Pitino’s team in what was a 27-point game at one point Friday. But being careless with the ball will cost them, especially against stronger competition.