Pregame: Gophers' pace, effectiveness will be tested

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  • November 12, 2013 - 5:01 PM

Read my story from today’s Star Tribune, on Ellliott Eliason and his role only getting more challenging now that he had a one-game explosion.

Tonight’s Gophers game vs. Montana tips off at 7 p.m. It is not on TV, but you can watch here for a price.

As the Gophers well know, not every team is going to be OK with running with Minnesota, and some are going to actively try to stymy that pace.

The home town squad may get their first glimpse of that on Tuesday night, with Montana coming to town.

The Grizzlies, who return three starters from last year, including the Big Sky POY, are expected to play some zone in the half-court to try to slow the speedy Gophers down.

It’s something the Gophers have been preparing for in practice with 15-second offensive drills against the zone. It’s still a work in progress.

“That drill, sometimes it gets out of hand when guys just start shooting it as soon as they get a chance, any open look we get,” guard Deandre Mathieu said. “But that’s really how we’re trying to play, just uptempo, get the shot up as quickly as possible. Against the man it’s pretty easy, but against the zone it’s kind of tough because nobody is moving, so you really have to kind of get a mismatch off the rebound and just pitch it up and get somebody to attack the rim.”

To avoid that, the Gophers are emphasizing defensive rebounding –what’s new – to have a better chance to get the ball in the open court and score in transition before the defense is able to get set on the other end.

It won’t work out that way all the time of course, and when the Gophers are forced to go against the zone, Andre Hollins believes, they’ll fare much better than they did a year ago, when zone defenses were the apparent Kryptonite of Minnesota basketball as a whole.

“The zone last year, we got really stagnant,” Hollins said. “We got really passive in the zone last year, but now it’s an aggressive mentality -- we go at it … Once we get those high outlets up the court and get it to the wings, pass the ball, get some layups, that’s what we do really well, scoring in transition. And then they’ll have to adjust.”

Mathieu said the team has improved in the 15-second drill against the zone as the exercise has been a regular part of practice.

“We’re getting better,” he said. “The first time we did it, it was real slow. Guys were shot-clock violations and last-second, just heaving it at the rim. But now it’s getting better, we’re getting better looks, we’re getting better looks in those 15 seconds and we’re keeping better track of how the time is going. We’re getting there.”

We should see just how well along it’s coming tonight.

Other notes on tonight’s game:

  • Mo Walker will still be absent, tonight being the second of six games he will be suspended for.
  • Wally Ellenson, who did not play in Friday’s opener is available, but Pitino said he hadn’t planned for him to play, just as he doesn’t plan ahead for any player to play.
  • The same starting five – Deandre Mathieu, Andre Hollins, Austin Hollins, Oto Osenieks and Elliott Eliason – is expected.

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