Read my story on Austin Hollins' impressive night en route to eclipsing 1,000 career points here.
When Richard Pitino came out on the court before the Gophers' 75-59 win over South Dakota State, he noticed something a little more different than usual: hecklers.
It was his father, and two of his brothers, wrapped in maroon-and-gold scarves, there to surprise him.
"When I walked on the court and I saw [my dad] and I saw my idiot brother yelling at me or something, so I noticed all of them over there," the younger Pitino said with a smile. "It was great – a lot of fun ... I’m glad we got the win in front of him. I brag about this place so much that I wanted him to see it, so I’m happy he got a chance to come see it."
Pitino sat behind the bench with his son's wife, Jill, while the brothers sat one bleacher over. The father, who spoke to Big Ten Network at halftime, praising the Gophers program, visited Florida International for a couple of games last year. The veteran coach has a house in Miami.
"He looked good in maroon and gold," the son joked. "I think maybe if one of our guys gets a job, we’ll just slide him right in as an assistant coach. I did three years with him, he’s got to pay me back."
While he was in town, Pitino was able to witness a little bit of Gophers history -- with Austin Hollins reaching the 1,000-point plateau with an outstanding performance.
After the game, the Louisville coach -- who personally congratulated Hollins -- spoke to the team as a whole, his message echoing amongst the players.
"He told us we had the ability to be a Final Four team if we just think we’re a Final Four team," DeAndre Mathieu said. "Just go out there every day and get better on defense."
Asked whether he winced at his father pumping up the pressure on a rebuilding team with Final Four talk, the younger Pitino shrugged and noted he sees promise in the fundamental nature of the team, which is growing steadily.
"I think what he’s saying, and I said this to our team – two years ago when I was an assistant coach and we went to Final Four at Louisville, we started two walk-ons," Pitino said. "By no means am I saying we’re a Final Four team, but what we had on that team was great chemistry, great substance, we were very humble and we went on a run. If we don’t lose those things and obviously continue to get better, we could do the same. We’ve just got to believe it.
"I think one of the thing about our guys – and he said it to the team, the difference between our guys and his guys, they believe they’re all lottery picks and they believe they’re going to win the national championship. I’m not sure a guy in our locker room believes that just yet. But that comes with confidence, that comes with hard work, which we’re trying to build right now."
Other notes from tonight's win:
- Austin Hollins' masterful 20-point, 14-rebound, three-assist, zero-turnover game got all the attention -- and rightfully so. The senior guard notched 1,000 career points in style. (Read all about it in my story above.) But Elliott Eliason quietly had a great game of his own, coming off an injured ankle and grabbing 12 rebounds to go with 10 points. Overall, the Gophers out-rebounded SDSU, 40-30.
- The Gophers had a second consecutive slow start, before Hollins sparked the team. A lot of that, Pitino said, has had to do with the slower schedule. He doesn't appear to be concerned about a rising trend. "I think it’s situational," he said. "I think we’ve all looked at the calendar and we’re a little concerned with this time period – that’s just natural. We were playing in Maui, then we played Florida State at home. We knew we were going to come down from that a little bit. Their focus was really good this game. I don’t think they let up with their mentality at all.
- One game after having a negative assist-to-turnover ratio (with 16 turnovers and 15 assists against New Orleans), the Gophers righted their ball handling, recording 21 assists to seven turnovers.
- Andre Hollins was 13 shy of the 1,000 mark before the game and didn't quite make it, finishing with eight points. The guard is still searching for his shot right now. He heads into next Friday's game against Nebraska-Omaha five short of the milestone. He noted tonight, it would have been cool to do it heading into his 21st birthday, which is tomorrow.
- Pitino said he plans to talk to his dad about Louisville eventually playing at Minnesota, saying it was something the elder Pitino was open to. He also joked "We can’t place twice in one year we can only play once, so we’re playing next year." The tentative plan is that the Gophers and Louisville will meet on a military base in Puerto Rico in November of 2014.
- Mathieu on seeing the elder Pitino at the Barn: "It shocked me when he walked in, because he had on the maroon sweater and the scarf and everything. I was like Aw, man, that’s crazy. That’s really Rick Pitino in the building."