The Gophers are capable of good defense – we know that from Friday, and from the first half of Monday.
When they’re pressing and doing it well, they are apt at stealing, deflecting and pulling an opponent out of its game. When they did that Friday, they were as good as any defensive team out there.
But it’s not an easy defense, and it’s clear the Gophers haven’t perfected it yet.
Monday, in the second half against Toledo, the Gophers looked exhausted, and their press fell apart. As they tried to keep it going, they fell into silly mistakes and turned the ball over A LOT.
“The environment, the energy of the whole game went down and we just need to make sure we keep that intensity through the whole game,” said Joe Coleman, who had a team-high 15 points but committed eight turnovers.
To be fair, the Gophers won by 26 points on Monday, so calling anything a breakdown should be taken in context. Still, the Gophers’ competition is going to be elevated SIGNIFICANTLY in just a matter of days, really, so it’s important to look at how they would fare against other (better) teams.
So what went wrong in the second half on Friday, when the Gophers seemed to misplace their mojo – playing Toledo to a 34-34 draw after racing to a 48-22 halftime lead?
“We’re all still kind of gelling,” Trevor Mbakwe said. “It’s been five, six months since our last game and we’re still re-learning each other and where to be on the court.”
Smith attributes a lot of the mistakes last night to rushing, particularly with Coleman, who sometimes gets ahead of his passes, the coach said.
But the mistakes can have their own effect on a team’s momentum, he said.
“I think the intensity part has been there,” he said. “But it takes a lot out of you when you turn the ball over 19 times. You just can’t do that. If you’re playing hard and working hard on one end and then go down and just give the ball back, it kind of deflates the intensity level. … You’ve got to respect the opponents – not just for 20 or 30 minutes, you’ve got to respect them for 40 minutes.”
Still, the improvement from last year to this is palpable. And some of the glitches the Gophers stumble into now, Smith seems willing to forgive, since he believes they’re a part of a bigger effort.
“We’re making few defensive mistakes,” he said. “We’re making mistakes of trying to do something – like get over and take a charge and we didn’t get over there. We’re trying to do the right things. It’s when you don’t try is when I get concerned. But we’ve been doing the little things very well.
“That tells me our guys are buying in and trusting one another, believing in what we’re teaching, then it’s real – what we’re seeing out there is real.”
The Gophers have proven that it’s real. Now they just need to show it can be consistent.