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Rayno blog: Gophers hope to learn from previous tournament struggles

  • Blog Post by: Amelia Rayno
  • March 10, 2014 - 1:49 PM

Richard Pitino is hoping that lessons learned bring new results.

The first rapid-fire tournament setting he coached the Gophers through did not go well.

At the Maui Invitational, the Thanksgiving tournament Minnesota participated in this year, the Gophers got a rough first-round matchup in Syracuse, but it was that game that turned out to be the highlight.

Minnesota stayed close with the Orange before falling 67-75. The next day, however, the Gophers crumbled against Arkansas, and on the final morning threatened to drop even the contest for last place to Chaminade, the tournament's only Division II team. 

Ultimately, the Gophers escaped the mid-game deficit and pulled out the 83-68 victory, but it was tough to consider the trip a success (for them at least; personally, I got a fantastic tan). By the end of it, Minnesota simply seemed exhausted.

If the Gophers achieve their goals now -- in the week before the Penn State finale, Pitino had been emphasizing five wins in five games, Mo Walker said -- they'll have to play a similar schedule at the Big Ten tournament, which starts Thursday with an opening matchup against Penn State.

"Maui taught me a little bit too, what to do, to understand legs and so on," Pitino said "So you're playing hopefully four games in four nights, and we’ve got to be aware of that."
    
One major difference, he pointed out, are the game times.

In Hawaii, once the Gophers fell to the loser's bracket, they played the earliest game each of the last two days -- both falling around 9 a.m. local time. Minnesota was 1-3 in games played before 4 p.m. in the league slate this season. In Indianapolis, the Gophers will play in the evening bracket, with their first game tipping at 6:30 ET.

Still, coach and players seemed to agree that the greatest battles next weekend will be mental. 

Monday and Tuesday, the Gophers will work to correct their own mistakes -- perhaps the greatest being mental lapses, and turnovers -- before continuing with prep on the Nittany Lions.

Minnesota obviously played with great confidence on Sunday, but the Gophers have experienced several major letdowns this season -- losing by 21 at Iowa after the Ohio State win, losing to Nebraska after the Wisconsin win and falling at home to Illinois after picking up just their second road win of the league schedule, at Northwestern.

"I think the mental part is the biggest key to making a run this late because everybody has their injuries, everybody is beat up and it's March," Andre Hollins said. "It's that mind frame, going into practice, going into everything you do. Taking care of your body and coming out, get ready to play, being ready as a team."

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