The Gophers probably pressed more than they have all season against Nebraska on Tuesday, and of course it was hugely productive and they forced 13 Huskers turnovers while seeming to tire out their opponent in the process.
Minnesota used the full-court press a lot early in the non-conference schedule but have struggled to do so with the same effectiveness in league play. Part of that certainly has to do with matchups – with a press tough to execute against teams like Wisconsin and Northwestern, that like to slow the pace of game down to a crawl – and part of it has been because the Gophers haven’t been successful enough in the rest of their game in the past few games to even attempt to set their press.
“We try it all the time, but when you’re shooting 29 percent in the half and you’re turning it all over 17, 15 times, you can’t press, and when you’re not rebounding at the defensive end, which we’ve had trouble doing [you can’t press],” coach Tubby Smith said. “I’m telling you the facts, as a coach, why we can’t press or why we didn’t press in the course of the losses that we had.”
Smith also notes that the Gophers’ inability to get to the free throw line in recent games (making just 29 trips – and converting 14 shots – in their two games leading up to Nebraska) took away critical game stops to try to instigate pressure.
But when the Gophers have managed to do it, they’ve found it pretty successful. On Tuesday, Rodney Williams cited the early press as the match that lit his fire.
“The thing that really got me going was when we started pressing,” he said. “I think when we come out aggressive like that, that gets everybody going. So, I think from now on, we’ll be a team that’s going to come out and press from start to finish from now on.”
Except, that theory could be tested very shortly, say, when they face Wisconsin again in less than two weeks.
“I’m not naïve enough to believe we can do that against Michigan, Wisconsin,” Smith said. “Those are great teams. That’s not derogatory, that’s nothing against Nebraska, that’s just the way the game is – matchup.”
By the talk of the players, they just want the chance. Said Williams: “It’s just something that I’m hoping right now. Coach likes to press, but like I said, this is the first time in a long time that we did it the whole game. So, it was successful, and I’m sure we’ll end up doing it again.”