In the Gophers’ two exhibition games and season opener, there was a substantial lot to be encouraged by -- yes, even excited about.
The Gophers maintained full-court pressure for an entire game against American. They showed a new energy. They rebounded. They turned over the ball substantially less. They showcased their roster-wide athleticism. Trevor Mbakwe made us all look kinda silly for worrying about his knee.
But there’s been one thing missing – as evident as ever on Friday.
So far, the Gophers haven’t been bullied into figuring out their mid-range and perimeter issues. Getting to the basket has been a piece of cake against inferior opponents Minnesota State, Southwest Baptist and American. And the Gophers have done well there, piling up in the paint and then holding their opponents defensively.
But they will not be playing cupcakes forever.
In fact, as you might recall, there’s a school named Duke on the docket in just four games and a stretch of three more tough opponents after that.
“Definitely shooting is a big focus,” Austin Hollins said. “We’ve been splitting into guards and big men and getting shots up. Before and after practice, we’ll get shots up. So that’s definitely a big focus, we’ve got to be able to knock down shots.”
But for three games they’ve struggled and so far shown no signs of breakout out of it. Hollins – one of the team’s best shooters – went 0-for-6 from behind the 3-point line on Friday before making his seventh attempt, late in the second half. Tubby Smith said afterward he thinks Hollins is moving his head some as he’s shooting, causing him to misfire.
“It definitely felt good to get that … one,” Hollins said afterward with a sheepish grin.
Said Rodney Williams: “We missed a couple of wide-open threes and I think that kind of shook up our confidence for a second, but once we got the ball inside and we got rolling on defense again, we were able to regain that confidence and pull it up.”
But what happens when teams won’t let them inside so easily and they don’t have a 30-point padding to work with?
The Gophers went 4-for-22 from the perimeter Friday, throwing up 13 attempts in the second half when American went into a zone defense and the Gophers were having a little more trouble getting inside.
“I don’t think it discouraged them at all,” Smith said sarcastically of the failure up until that point. We shot 22 threes … I’d like to see them shoot less or make more.”
Still, as he knows, the only thing that cures shooting ills is shooting drills (like that?) and the best cure for the Gophers may be to work it out as best they can early in the non-conference schedule.
“We need to shoot better and the only way we’re going shoot better is get out there and shoot it,” Smith said.