A new era of Gophers basketball is here.
Richard Pitino’s 2013-14 crew gave fans a little glimpse of the new brand on Friday, showcasing an up-tempo offense and a smothering pressure defense in Minnesota’s first exhibition game, against Cardinal Stritch at Williams Arena.
The new coach used 11 players in the first half — and 13 overall, including walk-on Kendall Shell — in the 79-57 victory. But a combination of Deandre Mathieu, Andre Hollins, Austin Hollins, Oto Osenieks and Elliott Eliason got the start. Pitino said on Thursday that he might experiment with different starting lineups throughout the nonconference schedule.
Austin Hollins led the Gophers with 17 points and four steals and added a pair of dunks in an aggressive performance. Mathieu again looked lightning fast and apt at the top of the offense, and power forward Joey King made an argument for starting next time around, recording 14 points and five assists.
“It’s good to get out here and get a test drive on our new brand of basketball,” said Andre Hollins, who had 11 points and three assists with no turnovers. “We definitely sped them up.”
The biggest challenge for the Gophers, however, might still be getting through 40 minutes of hectic basketball at a blistering pace.
The Gophers’ scoring attack slowed in the second half, as their defense got a little lazy. Cardinal Stritch, an NAIA school in Milwaukee, scored 38 of its 57 total points in the second half, outscoring Minnesota by five points. The Gophers were outrebounded 24-19 in the second, and fell six short of the final Cardinal Stritch tally. At one point, Pitino, clearly not excited by the defensive and rebounding effort, called a timeout to try to infuse some energy.
“We got a little bit sloppy and kind of took our foot off the gas a little bit,” King said. “It’s just something to learn from. I think Monday we’ll come back with a greater sense of urgency in the second half.”
There was plenty to like. Against a Cardinal Stritch defense that looked overwhelmed quickly, the Gophers scored in a variety of ways early. They made good of every opportunity to get out in the open court, finding eight points off the fast break in the first half, and had 46 points in the paint all game. They got to the line 30 times, but were able to convert just 11 shots from the stripe, something a team that shoots 100 free throws each on game days doesn’t feel is indicative of their play.
Perhaps most notable is that the Gophers fouled just 11 times while maintaining their attacking defense, collected 11 steals and turned over the Wolves 17 times. On the other end, the Gophers committed only seven turnovers, an encouraging sight for fans who watched the team lose the ball on 20.9 percent of its possessions a year ago.
“A lot of people said, ‘How are you going to press with how tight they call the game?’ ” Pitino said. “And we only fouled 11 times … We did a great job of moving our feet. We showed that we could play our style without fouling. So that was probably the most exciting.”