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Gophers Andre Hollins and Joey King stripped the ball away from TAMCC's Jake Kocher during the second half at Williams Arena in Minneapolis Saturday, December 28, 2013. ] (KYNDELL HARKNESS/STAR TRIBUNE) kyndell.harkness@startribune.com

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Richard Pitino coached a tight game that the Gophers lost 60-63 to Michigan.

Richard Tsong-Taatarii, DML - Star Tribune

Souhan: With no excuses, Gophers fall hard in opener

  • Article by: JIM SOUHAN
  • Star Tribune
  • January 3, 2014 - 10:33 AM

Richard Pitino is setting a bad example for his team. Thursday night, in a fit of pique, Pitino ripped off his jacket and threw it behind him toward the bench. It flopped on the hardwood and slipped off the raised court.

His players shot the ball with similar accuracy, and results.

Thursday night at Williams Arena, the Gophers lost an essential game for the most fundamental of reasons.

They shot the ball like they were inebriated fans dragged onto the court for a hokey halftime promotion wearing baseball caps and boots.

Pitino wisely built his first Gophers team around his best players: his guards. He starts three guards and a thin forward. He favors pressure defenses, a fast pace, the three-point shot and drives through defenses spread thin trying to cover so many shooters.

Thursday night, in the Gophers’ first game of the Big Ten schedule, they were lucky to face a Michigan team playing without star forward Mitch McGary. The team also lost star Glenn Robinson III to an ankle injury.

Those injuries forced Michigan, too, to play small, robbing the Gophers of any excuses. Minnesota would have the most experienced players on the court, would not be forced to play with distinct disadvantages in frontcourt size and depth, would have a purported home-court advantage, and would play knowing that a strong start to the Big Ten season could lead to an NCAA berth.

Knowledge, in this case, was not power. Apparently, this form of knowledge was incapacitating.

Austin Hollins made one of his nine shots, missing all six of his three-pointers. Andre Hollins made three of his 10 shots, and one of his five from beyond the arc. DeAndre Mathieu went 3-for-10, and Oto Osenieks went 1-for-7.

It’s not a complicated game. The Gophers outrebounded Michigan 38-24 and took more shots, by a margin of 53-44. They lost because their best shooters either forced bad shots or missed good ones.

That is not how this team should lose. This team should lose when it faces bigger, stronger teams, not when Elliott Eliason is able to grab a game-high 10 rebounds.

“We chart what we call challenged shots,’’ Pitino said. “We went 1-for-8 on challenged shots. We rushed some of them when we should have drove it. But they also played very good defense, so give them credit for that. It was a little bit of both.’’

There are two soft spots in the Gophers’ Big Ten schedule. The first began Thursday, and included the home loss to Michigan, Sunday’s home game against Purdue, and a trip to Northwestern.

In late January and early February, the Gophers will play at Nebraska, home against Northwestern, and at Purdue.

To go .500 in conference play and earn a bid to the tournament, the Gophers probably needed to win five of those games. Their margin for error disappeared Thursday in a blaze of hurried jumpers.

“We’ve got to understand that we’re just building this thing,’’ Pitino said. “We’re in the infancy of this thing.’’

Asked how he could build a program to resemble Michigan’s, Pitino said, “It’s all about recruiting, it really is. We’ve got to build that culture.’’

That’s true, and intriguing. Pitino is right: He will have to be a better recruiter than Tubby Smith to win big at Minnesota. But to cite recruiting after a wrenching home loss? Let’s hope he doesn’t read Tubby’s Cliff’s Notes and start complaining about the lack of a practice facility.

Thursday, the Gophers were strong enough inside, and had adequate depth to win the game. They were betrayed by their best players.

This loss belongs to Hollins & Hollins. They’re the guys who had the Gophers ranked as high as eighth in the country last year, and engineered an upset of No. 1 Indiana at The Barn last year.

Thursday, they went 4-for-19 from the field, 1-for-11 from the three-point line and committed four turnovers.

If Hollins & Hollins aren’t going to make shots, Pitino will have every right to spend the rest of the season talking about recruiting.

 

Jim Souhan can be heard weekdays at noon and Sundays from 10 to noon on 1500 ESPN. His Twitter name is @SouhanStrib. jsouhan@startribune.com

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