Richard Pitino listened to a number of different theories from reporters fishing for reasons that might explain why his two senior guards, Andre Hollins and DeAndre Mathieu, played like lost tourists in Manhattan during the Gophers’ first two Big Ten games.
Was Hollins’ turf toe injury to blame?
“No,” Pitino said. “He’s fine.”
OK, is Hollins affected by the stress of not knowing where or if he’ll get to play professionally next season?
“I think seniors go through, ‘Where am I going to be next year?’ Everybody deals with it,” Pitino said. “But I don’t see the weight of the world on his shoulders. I don’t feel like he’s frustrated.”
OK, but Mathieu does have a lot of demands at home with an infant son, so …
“You’re blaming the kid for the turnovers?” Pitino cracked. “I think he’s just over-penetrating.”
Pitino’s news conference didn’t last very long Monday. Otherwise, somebody might have gone further down the list and asked whether food poisoning, unrest in the world or post-Christmas blues were at the root of their shaky performances.
Pitino found only one logical explanation: His guards just played two bad games.
Nobody argued with him.
“We’ll get them right, don’t worry,” he said.
Two Big Ten games isn’t enough evidence to smash the panic button, but the play of Hollins and Mathieu in road losses to Purdue and Maryland at the least is disconcerting.
Hollins made only three of 19 shots and scored nine points total in those two games. He went 1-for-9 from three-point range. Mathieu scored 15 points total in the losses and committed nine turnovers, with only two assists.
One couldn’t make a shot and the other was careless with the ball, which is not exactly an ideal combination for any backcourt.
Asked if he’s concerned by what he saw from both, Pitino responded, “Not really.”
Bashing his senior guards publicly serves Pitino no real purpose, so his calm reaction to a few crummy games was not all that surprising. It’s no secret that Hollins and Mathieu have to play better for the Gophers to have any chance to be successful in the Big Ten season.
Both guards have limitations as players, but the Gophers don’t have a lot of other options right now when those two struggle against Big Ten competition.
The Gophers are banking on the belief that Hollins and Mathieu have enough experience and mental toughness to pull out of this little skid.
“Both of those guys will rebound,” Pitino said.
The concern with Hollins is his injury history and streakiness as a shooter. A severe ankle sprain basically ruined his junior season. A turf toe injury has bothered him this season. Hollins has not reached double figures in scoring in four games, which is his longest such drought since his freshman season.
Hollins has looked tentative with his shot and willingness to attack, which he attributed to missing practice time because of his injury. Whatever the case, he needs to regain some confidence in his offensive game.
His poor shooting against Maryland had a negative trickle-down effect because it caused Carlos Morris to act like he was playing Pop-A-Shot at the arcade.
Morris jacked up 21 shots, including 10 three-pointers. Pitino applauded Morris’ desire and intensity, but he noted that six of his shots were “pretty bad shots.”
“He should never take 10 threes in one game,” Pitino said.
Mathieu’s decision-making compounded matters because he contributed five turnovers. His strength as a point guard lies in his ability to push the pace at warp speed, so his game will always hover on the edge of being reckless.
His aggressive mentality is admirable. But he needs to find the proper balance between fearless and foolish.
“Whenever you don’t play well,” Mathieu said, “you always want to get back on the court and try and get the last game out of your head.”
Hollins and Mathieu get that opportunity Tuesday night at the Barn against Ohio State in the Gophers’ Big Ten home opener. Pitino sounded confident that his senior guards will bounce back from a couple of tough games.
If not, the concern level will continue to rise.