This is Amelia Rayno's third season on the Gophers men's basketball beat. She learned college basketball in North Carolina (Go Tar Heels!), where fanhood is not an option. In 2010, she joined the Star Tribune after graduating from Boston's Emerson College, which sadly had no exciting D-I college hoops to latch onto. Amelia has also worked on the sports desk at the Boston Globe and interned at the Detroit News.

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Gophers coach Richard Pitino highlights mental focus after tough game vs. New Orleans

Posted by: Amelia Rayno under College basketball, Gophers coaches, Gophers players Updated: December 9, 2013 - 5:42 PM

Richard Pitino realizes just what mental struggles have almost cost the team.

And that's why after just nine seconds in Minnesota's game against New Orleans on Saturday, the Gophers coach pulled Andre Hollins after the guard didn't run the play Pitino had set out.

At Monday's press conference with the media Pitino said the quick move "wasn't a big deal," and that Hollins reacted really well to the lesson.

But the point that the coach was trying to make to his players is that staying mentally focused IS a big deal, and he's not afraid to take out even his best player to assure he gets it.

After all, Minnesota was threatened by both Divison II Chaminade -- who led by 9 in the second half -- because of mental mistakes, and struggled against Coastal Carolina in similar fashion. After watching the film, Pitino cited bad decisions and sloppiness as the reason the Gophers never really got off and running against New Orleans -- even after Pitino highlighted the importance of focus by taking out Hollins -- and then collapsed somewhat in the second half.

"The mental part of this game is just as important as the physical part," said Pitino, noting he emphasized it more than ever in practice as the Gophers prepare for South Dakota State on Tuesday. "We stress it as much as possible, show them doing certain things. The first play of the game, Andre Hollins doesn’t run the play that we call, but I should have taken DeAndre [Mathieu] out, DeAndre just threw the ball out of bounds. So looking back at it, they just lost a little focus. So you stress those things over and over again and you show them that anybody can get beat on any given night. And we did some things against New Orleans that could have gotten us beat."

None of it, though, is due to bad attitudes, Pitino said. Hollins handled being pulled out well, just as he handles criticsm well in general, the coach noted.

"Andre Hollins, you’ll yell at him and he, like, smiles at you," Pitino said. "They’re all really, really easy to coach. For year one, they’re fun to be around on a daily basis."

Other notes:

  • Pitino said he "anticipates" Elliott Eliason starting tomorrow. Smith should return as well.
  • The university announced that former Minnesota graduate and North Stars player Lou Nanne will lead the Athletic Facilities Fundraising Campaign. This past spring, the university unveiled a massive $190 million facilities plan including new football and basketball practice facilities, along with an Olympic sports facility and numerous other features.
  • Pitino coached SDSU center Cody Larson three years ago, when both were at Florida. Larson redshirted in 2010-11 and then played minimally the next year after Pitino went to Louisville, before transferring to South Dakota State. "Happy to see him doing well – good kid, good family" said Pitino, noting that the staff was wary of his ability to hit a three-pointer.

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